There aren’t many coaches in Asia’s youth football who can boast of having coached players who now play in the top leagues of English football. But Roy Abi-Elias, the head coach of Lebanon’s u-19 national team, who was actually born and raised in the United Kingdom, is at the head of an exciting generation of talented young Lebanese coaches.
Lebanon made a big statement on Thursday when they held South Korea to a 0-0 draw in Beirut despite playing the game in an empty stadium. The Cedars managed to stop high-quality players such as Tottenham’s Son Heung-Min and Bordeaux’s Hwang Ui-Jo all while threatening to score themselves in what was an exemplary performance by the players and a tactical masterclass from head coach Liviu Ciobotariu. This now puts Lebanon in a good position to qualify for the Third Round of Qualification, an achievement which would also send Lebanon automatically to the 2023 Asian Cup.
For the past 25 days, Lebanon has been taken over by an incredible uprising that has seen a big part of the Lebanese population, whether in Lebanon or throughout the various diasporas all over the globe, writing history in search of a better future. But Thursday, it is the National Team’s turn to take centre stage, with the hope that they can benefit from this momentum and unified and patriotic national movement and achieve what would be a historical result against continental giants South Korea.
On Thursday, Lebanon will play their second game of the 2022 World Cup Qualifying campaign at home against Turkmenistan. The pressure is on after opening with a defeat to North Korea and Liviu Ciobotariu and the squad will be keen to get back to winning ways in front of their own fans. A big crowd is expected for the first World Cup Qualifier on Lebanese soil since March 2016 and the first at the Camille Chamoun Sports City Stadium since June 2013, with anticipation high among local fans.
The Lebanon u-19 National Team will begin its qualification campaign for the 2020 Asian Championship later today when they take on Syria in Tajikistan. Lebanon were drawn in Group C, which also has Tajikistan and Maldives, and the other two games will be played on the 4th and the 6th of October respectively. This group has been working together for a long time and will be hoping to qualify to the final tournament, which will take place in Uzbekistan in October of next year, something Lebanon hasn’t done since 2008.
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.
It has surely been a very difficult international break for the Lebanese squad, following the defeat to North Korea with a 1-0 loss in Oman, making it three defeats in a row and 4 out of 6 for new head coach Liviu Ciobotariu. These results and the performances that led to them have diluted the optimism and positivity that followed the West Asian Championships and have put a lot of pressure on the next match in Beirut against Turkmenistan.
Lebanon kicked off their 2022 World Cup Qualifying campaign in Pyongyang on Thursday with a 2-0 defeat against familiar foes North Korea. Two goals by Jong Il-Gwan were enough to see the hosts claim an important victory, with Lebanon captain Hassan Maatouk missing two good chances including a second-half penalty. The victory puts North Korea in a very good position ahead of their trip to group underdogs Sri Lanka. On the other hand, there are already questions being asked of Lebanon and their new head coach after the loss.
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 started their West Asian Championship campaign with a 1-0 defeat to hosts Iraq, but there were numerous positives to take from the Cedars’ first performance under new head coach Liviu Ciobotariu. On what was a great occasion in the city of Karbala, where Iraqis filled the stadium to watch their National Team’s first competitive match on home soil in over a decade, it was the men in red who played the better football, and although they returned empty-handed, fans were left encouraged by what they had seen.