AIN TERMA, Syria (AP) — Syrian troops based in this town near the capital Damascus had their eyes glued to the TV set when France scored its third goal against Croatia in the World Cup final on Sunday. Four young men screamed in unison: “No!”
Most of the Syrian troops and residents of Ain Terma watched the World Cup’s final match hoping that Croatia would win, but ultimately weren’t granted their wish.
Most Syrians in areas controlled by the government harbor antipathy for France as many of them consider it part of a coalition opposed to President Bashar Assad.
France is Syria’s former colonial power and anti-French sentiments are usually high in the country. Many Syrian soap operas depicting that period usually show the French as ruthless occupiers.
On the edge of Ain Terma, five members of the elite Republican Guard units watched the match Sunday evening as they sipped cups of sweetened tea.
“We are for Croatia,” said one of the men dressed in army fatigues. “Croatia is a small country, they have an excellent team and they reached the final.”
In town, people gathered around TVs in shops and homes watching the soccer, Syria’s most popular sport.
Although many Syrians said that they were supporting Croatia for political reasons, butcher Fahd al-Qadi, 39, said he supports the European nation because of his love for the team’s star midfielder, Luka Modric.
“I don’t mix politics with soccer,” said Qadi, standing behind his wooden cutting board while eyeing a small TV running on a generator because power is still cut from the town that was, until March, held by rebels for over five years.
When Russia was eliminated from the World Cup by Croatia last week, many Syrians around the world opposed to Assad celebrated Moscow’s defeat. Russia is a main backer of the Syrian President and joined Syria’s seven-year war on his side in September 2015, tipping the balance of power in his favor.
One of Assad’s most recent victories came earlier this year when government forces captured the eastern suburbs of Damascus, known as eastern Ghouta. Ain Terma is one of its main towns.
Soccer coach Mohammed Qadi, who once worked for the Wahda soccer team, one of the best in Syria, said “Croatia is a friendly country and is close to us. They also have a strong and disciplined team.”
Several people gathered at the two rooms that make up Qadi’s home, which lost its ceiling because of previous government shelling.
But in Ein Tarma, not everyone was able to watch the match because of the lack of electricity. Apathy from war-induced misery was also pervasive.
Upholstery maker Nabil Harmoush was one of those who didn’t watching the match, saying he doesn’t own a TV set and that his house was destroyed during the government offensive that captured eastern Ghouta earlier this year.
“I have bigger problems to worry about,” said the 32-year-old resident as he fixed his motorcycle on a busy street.