13 Feb 2013

Syrian football season starts despite civil war

3:11 pm on 13 February 2013

Despite no sign of an end to the two-year civil war destroying Syria, there was a little sign of normality as the new football season got underway.

Two thousand spectators, mostly people displaced by the conflict that was estimated by the United Nations on Tuesday to have claimed 70,000 lives, turned up at a stadium in Damascus to watch Al-Wathba from Homs beat Al-Jazeera of Al-Hasakah 1-0.

Played to a backdrop of distant artillery fire, it was a high-octane match, with the central Syrian city of Homs known by the rebels as the 'capital of the revolution' while there is fierce fighting going on in Al-Hasakah in the north-east of the country, largely populated by Kurds.

Two other matches took place in Damascus which, just as was the case last year, will host the league championship because of the impact of the conflict on other parts of the country.

The 60 best players are plying their trade outside the country and the Al-Foutoua team has withdrawn from the championship because of difficult conditions in Deir ez-Zor, the large city in the east of Syria, and also due to the transfer of most of their players to other teams.

There are also doubts over whether two other teams, Al-Ittihad and Hurriya, will compete as they are based in Aleppo, a city divided between rebels and troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Teams are split into two pools, with the final phase played between the four best sides from the pool stage.