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.
On Monday, Nejmeh will begin their 2019 AFC Cup campaign in Amman, facing Jordanian champions Al Wehdat in their first game in the competition since May 2017. The pressure is on the Nejmeh players and coaching staff after Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat to Salam Zgharta that has left Ahed 8 points clear at the top of the table and seemingly on their way to a third successive title win. In addition, this season’s performances have been underwhelming to say the least, and the fans are demanding success on the continental stage.
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 Asian Cup adventure came to a tragic ending as the Cedars, despite beating North Korea 4-1, were unable to qualify for the Knockout Stages. However, notwithstanding the disappointing results, the players made us proud with their performances and were unlucky and deserved to be in the last 16. But while some players shone on the continental stage, others that did not perform to the best of their abilities. Here I will be rating every player’s performances 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.
In their last group game on Thursday night, Lebanon managed to win 4-1 against North Korea, which meant that they ended the group stages with 3 points, a -1 goal difference and 4 goals scored, exactly like Vietnam, the third-placed team in Group D. However, unfortunately, Lebanon’s overall tally of 7 yellow cards compared to Vietnam’s 5 means that Vietnam proceed to the next round instead of the Cedars through the fair-play rule that comes as a controversial tiebreaker after points, goal difference and goals scored. What a devastating way for the Cedars to go.
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.
After the 2-0 defeat to Qatar on Matchday 1, The Cedars were under a little bit of pressure to get a result against big favourites Saudi Arabia in order to get themselves in a favourable position to qualify for the second round for the first time in their history. However, unfortunately, despite putting in a decent performance and giving a good account of themselves, the Cedars ultimately fell short as Saudi Arabia ran out 2-0 winners on Saturday at the beautiful, newly-renovated, Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai. The all-Arab affair saw a decent crowd attend the game and the atmosphere was great, even if the official attendance of 13000 seems like a stretch with regards to what we saw inside the stadium. But, in the end, Lebanon were unable to get a result against the three-times Asian champions and will now need a win in their last game and other results to go their way if they are to make it to the last 16.
On Saturday, Lebanon will play their second game in this year’s Asian Cup in Dubai’s newly renovated Al Maktoum Stadium, facing group favourites Saudi Arabia. The Cedars enter this match as clear underdogs and with increased pressure following the defeat to Qatar, but there is belief in the camp that an upset can be caused.