The Lebanese National Team has now returned from their two-week long camp in Bahrain, the last big stage of their preparations for the 2019 Asian Cup. They will be training in Beirut for the next week before flying out to the UAE on Saturday morning.
The camp was organized following the head coach Miodrag Radulovic’s desire to work on the weaknesses that his team displayed in the friendly matches since qualification was ensured, particularly on the fitness levels of the team. Indeed, Miodrag Radulovic said when explaining the need for this camp that the players playing their club football in the semi-pro Lebanese Premier League struggled to keep up with the physical demands and the fast rhythm of international football. He even hired a specialized fitness coach, Vladimir Cronic. This was deemed as a success, with forward player Rabih Ataya telling Aljadeed Sport that the players benefitted from the double sessions and hard-work with many players feeling aches and pains towards the end, a sign of the intensity and magnitude of the effort put in.
In addition, Radulovic used to camp to work on the attacking side to Lebanon’s game, which has proved a problem recently. Radulovic was looking to work on a short-passing game intended to link the defensive, midfield and attacking lines together. He also made the players work on particular strategies designed specifically based on each of Lebanon’s group stage opponents: Qatar, Saudi Arabia and North Korea. The coaching staff also held meetings every evening with the players to discuss tactics and study the way the other teams in Group E play. Finally, the isolation of the squad allowed them to benefit from a media-free environment (not like the environment is filled with media people when they are in Beirut) and an increase in the team spirit and togetherness of the squad.
The camp ended with a friendly match against Bahrain in which Lebanon lost 1-0 to a penalty from Ibrahim Habib that came just after half-time. The game was used by Radulovic mainly to test the results of the camp, which saw him give all the players a chance and experiment with various tactics during the game. According to Lebanese Football Association Secretary General Jihad Al Chohf, the performance against Bahrain was good despite the loss, with the coaching staff being satisfied with the fitness and technical levels shown during the game, as well as the team spirit displayed by the team.
For the games against Bahrain, Radulovic chose to start with his customary formation (5-2-3). Mehdi Khalil started in goal. The back five consisted of Ali Hamam on the right, Walid Ismail on the left, and Joan Oumari, Alexander Michel and Mootaz Jounaidi in the back-three. The midfielders were Haitham Faour and Felix Michel. And the front three was Hassan Maatouk, Bassel Jradi and Rabih Ataya, with Ataya coming in for Mohamad Haidar who was not fit to play the game.
The first round of substitutions, which came at half-time, saw Mostafa Matar replace Mahdi Khalil in goal for his Lebanon debut, Kassem El Zein come in for Ali Hamam, Nour Mansour take Joan Oumari’s place, Mohammad Zein Tahan replace Walid Ismail, Samir Ayass substitute Haitham Faour and Hilal el Helwe brought on for Rabih Ataya. Later on, Radulovic brought Adnan Haidar on for Jounaidi, Hassan Chaito Shibriko for Alexander Michel and Nader Matar for Felix Michel, meaning a probable switch to a 4-3-3 with Zein Tahan and Hassan Chaito Shibriko at right and left-back respectively, Kassem El Zein and Nour Mansour forming the centre-back partnership, Adnan Haidar and Nader Matar and Samir Ayass in central midfield and a front-three consisting of Maatouk, Jradi and El Helwe. One final change was made with a quarter of an hour to go: Hassan Chaito Moni on for Hassan Maatouk.
The final 23-man squad for the tournament was announced the day before the game. Young first-timers Hussien Monzer and Hadi Mortada were left out expectedly. Meanwhile, Nassar Nassar’s training injury meant he joined Omar Bugiel and Abbas Hassan on the injury list. Nassar Nassar’s injury was particularly heartbreaking as he was a regular throughout the qualifiers and, despite having a modest career playing mostly for smaller clubs such as Salam Sour, Tadamon Sour and Nabi Chit (now known as Bekaa Sports) before joining Ansar in the summer of 2016, he always gave his all for the shirt and played with confidence and composure and was a real team player. His versatility also meant he was a real asset for the Cedars. He will be missed, as will Hassan and Bugiel, and we wish them a speedy recovery.
The majority of the squad arrived in Beirut, with Joan Oumari, the Michel brothers, Adnan Haidar and Bassel Jradi going home for a couple of days. The squad will train at Nejmeh’s Rafic Hariri Stadium in Manara, Beirut, for the next week before flying out to the UAE next Saturday.