The Lebanese National team finished the last international break with a 0-0 draw against Uzbekistan and a 3-0 defeat against Australia in Tim Cahill’s last game for the Socceroos. This was the hardest test this team has faced on their road to the 2019 Asian Cup, but despite the negative results, the players handled themselves well and can great take confidence from their two performances
The national team stayed in Gold Coast for most of the trip, which is where they played against Uzbekistan. The lineup against Uzbekistan saw the Michel brothers make their debuts for the National Team, with Alexander starting at right wing-back and Felix in holding midfield. Bassel Jradi also made his return to our Muntakhab after a three-year absence, playing in a false nine position. There was no change in goal with Khalil playing the whole game. In front of him, Kassem El Zein, Mootaz Jounaidi and Joan Oumari started in the back three with Nassar Nassar starting at left wing-back. Samir Ayass was chosen ahead of Nader Matar in central midfield alongside Michel, with Hassan Maatouk and Mohammad Haidar starting in the two inside forward positions. Lebanon put in a great performance and were unlucky not to win the game. The first half saw the Cedars in control of proceedings and dominating the ball without causing too much trouble for the opposition, with the only chance falling to Haidar who dragged a shot wide after being found by a Maatouk cut-back. The second half saw us create more clear-cut chances, particularly after Uzbekistan went down to ten men on the hour mark. Haidar put in a great delivery into the box which Oumari was inches away from heading in. Maatouk was denied by a good save by Suyunov after Lebanon won the ball back high up the pitch, and Ataya, who replaced Haidar, and Jradi combined well before being stopped by two great saves in quick succession. Jradi later came close from a long-range free-kick. At the other end, there was very little to do for the defence and keeper Khalil, with Uzbekistan having a couple of dangerous-looking counter-attacks without creating anything meaningful from them. Radulovic switched to a 4-1-4-1 in search of a winner, with Bugiel replacing Jounaidi and Hassan Chaito Moni coming on for Maatouk as well as Adnan Haidar replacing Ayass. Overall it was a very positive performance, with the defensive organization particularly impressive, and would have ended in a historic victory were it not for a combination of inefficiency in front of goal and heroic goalkeeping.
The Australia game was very different. Radulovic made four changes to the starting eleven. Walid Ismail replaced Alex Michel, starting on the left of the back five with Nassar Nassar playing on the right. Nour Mansour was brought in instead of Jounaidi. Adnan Haidar came in for Felix Michel in central midfield and Omar Bugiel started instead of Mohammad Haidar, with Bugiel and Jradi starting on the wings and Maatouk starting upfront. It was a bad start for Lebanon as Bugiel came off injured after just five minutes, with Haidar coming on and Radulovic reverting to the front three that started against Uzbekistan. Meanwhile, Australia came flying out of the blocks, putting intense pressure on the Lebanese players who were clearly nervous, and committing numerous players forward. In fact, the first 20 minutes saw an Australian raid on the Lebanese goal, with a series of last-ditch challenges from the three centre-backs and Oumari in particular keeping the Australians out. That didn’t last long, with a long-range shot from Boyle deflecting off Oumari and going in past the wrong-footed Khalil with barely 20 minutes played. The first half was played almost exclusively in Lebanon’s half as the Cedars sat very deep and struggled to keep possession and get forward when they won the ball back. They started to improve, especially defensively, as the half wore on, but Boyle doubled his tally on the stroke of half-time on the rebound after a header by the unmarked Degenek hit the crossbar and Mansour lost his man for a split-second, the type of lapse in concentration inevitable given the level, particularly in terms of intensity, our players are used to in the local league. However, the second half saw a rejuvenated Lebanon side play with a lot more courage and threat. We started to keep possession, playing through the press, and Maatouk started to get on the ball in interesting areas. Radulovic tried to capitalize on a spell of good pressure, in which we had 70% possession for a good 5-10 minutes, by bringing on Ataya for Ayass in a very attacking change. Australia were being forced back as the dribbling ability of Maatouk, Ataya, Haidar and Jradi started to shine, with the front four combining well with short passes to get into good areas without finding the final pass or finish. This good spell ended with Australia making it 3-0 on the counter-attack, with a cross by Boyle finding Leckie, who ran off Nassar Nassar and smashed it in through Khalil. The final 20 minutes were a bit end-to-end, with Australia coming very close to increasing their lead. Andrew Nabbout, who is of Lebanese descent, was denied by a good Mehdi Khalil save as well as the inside of the post from two close-range efforts. Tim Cahill, who came in with ten minutes to go in his last appearance for the Socceroos, would have signed off in style were it not for a bit of last-ditch defending by Kassem El Zein. At the other end, there were a couple of long-range efforts by Ataya. Meanwhile, Jounaidi and Matar came on for Mansour and Jradi respectively before late substitutions came in the form of Hassan Chaito Shibriko for Mohammad Haidar and Hassan Chaito Moni for Walid Ismail. With five minutes to go Maatouk was played through in behind the Australian defence before shooting wide from a tight angle. In the final minute, Jounaidi headed over from a good cross. In the end, it was a difficult result but a great experience for the boys in red and they will take great confidence from the second half performance.