Later today, Ahed face Beirut rivals Ansar in the Lebanese football season’s curtain-raiser, the Super Cup. Ahed will be hoping to continue their domestic dominance having won two successive league and cup doubles but last year’s runners-up in both the league and the FA Cup Ansar have strengthened significantly over the summer and are looking to spoil Ahed’s party, today, and this season.
The Lebanese National Team participated in the 2019 West Asian Championships, which took place in Iraq, and although the results were ultimately disappointing, there were loads of positives to take. In what was Liviu Ciobotariu’s first outing as Lebanon’s head coach, he led the team through four games against teams from the region with the goal of getting to know the local-based players (expatriates weren’t available for selection due to the tournament being outside of official FIFA international break) and beginning to implement his style of play in preparation for the 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup qualifying campaign which begin on the 5th September with a trip to familiar foes North Korea.
Lebanon did not meet expectations at the recent Asian Cup, their first in 19 years, and this meant that Montenegrin head coach Miodrag Radulovic did not have his contract renewed after four years in charge. He was replaced by the Romanian Liviu Ciobotariu, who took training with the National Team for the first time this week in preparations for the West Asian Championship which kicks off in Iraq on the 30th of July, and then the Qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup and the 2023 Asian Cup.
Last summer, excitement in Lebanese football was high, mainly in anticipation of the National Team’s historic participation in the Asian Cup in January, their first major tournament in 19 years. Indeed, this year was to be arguably the most important year in Lebanese football history, and with ambitions of making it to the knockout stages of the Asian Cup for the first time, it was more crucial than ever that the domestic game had a strong year. However, unfortunately, it was to be quite the opposite, as numerous issues amounted to provide one of the worst seasons in Lebanese football since the end of the Civil War.
Just over a month ago, Lebanon’s Olympic Team participated in Asian Cup Qualifiers with no preparation and as result finished 3rd in their group. Then, a few weeks later, it was the turn of the under-19s, who participated in the ISF World Championship (a non-FIFA tournament) in Serbia and achieved an impressive 8th place out of the 24 participating teams. This is a stark contrast between two generations who are only a few years apart and yet, there is a logical explanation for this contrast: the FA.
This week is a massive week for the Lebanese Olympic Squad (Under-23), as they prepare to travel to Saudi Arabia to participate in the 2020 Asian Cup qualifiers. However, they go there with non-existent preparation as the FA has shown very little interest in the youth teams and very little planning when it comes to their management and development.
After having rated the performances of every member of the Cedar’s squad at this year’s Asian Cup, I will now highlight six players from the Cedars who caught the eye at the tournament.
Lebanon’s first major tournament campaign in 19 years ended on Thursday night despite a first ever Asian Cup win, with the Cedars being knocked out at the group stages, just like in their maiden Asian Cup campaign back home in 2000. This was a historical tournament for Lebanon because it was the first time that they qualified for a tournament, having hosted the Asian Cup in 2000, and so the fans were incredibly excited to see their heroes take on the best in the continent and the players were very determined to enjoy the experience and do well. However, things unfortunately did not go to planned as Lebanon were unsuccessful in their attempt to qualify for their first ever knockout stages. Here, I will attempt to point out exactly why Lebanon failed to reach their targets.
On Thursday night, Lebanon face North Korea in their final group game at this Asian Cup at the Sharjah Football Stadium. This game is crucial for our team as it is our door to the last 16 of the 2019 Asian Cup, a stage we are yet to reach in our history. And while two defeats in our opening two matches against Qatar and Saudi Arabia have put us in a tricky situation to make this happen, there is still hope.
Since the defeat to Saudi Arabia on Saturday, all the talk has been about Lebanon’s final group game against North Korea, scheduled for Thursday at 8pm local time at the football stadium in Sharjah. And rightly so, given that this game is Lebanon’s final chance at making it to the last 16 for the first time in its history.