Hero Intercontinental Cup 2023, know your opponents: Lebanon national football team
The Lebanon national football team, currently ranked 99th by FIFA, holds the highest ranking among the participating nations in the Hero Intercontinental Cup 2023, two spots above the host nation India. The tournament also comprises two other countries: Vanuatu (164) and Mongolia (183). Lebanon is expected to present the toughest challenge to the Blue Tigers in the upcoming tournament.
The Lebanon national football team, currently ranked 99th in FIFA charts, holds the highest ranking among the participating nations in the Hero Intercontinental Cup 2023, two spots above the host nation India. The tournament also comprises two other countries: Vanuatu (164) and Mongolia (183). Lebanon is expected to present the toughest challenge to the Blue Tigers in the upcoming tournament.
The side from the Middle East will begin their campaign in the Hero Intercontinental Cup 2023 with a game against Vanuatu on June 9, followed by a match against Mongolia on June 12 before facing hosts India on June 15.
The Indian head coach, Igor Stimac, has a good relationship with Lebanon's Serbian head coach Aleksandar Ilic, who was his club teammate at Cádiz CF in Spain in 1994. "Ilic is a good friend of mine because he joined Cádiz on loan when I was playing there, and I helped him settle down. We have known each other for the last 30 years, and I wish him a warm welcome to India, although we're going to make it very difficult for them," said Stimac.
Nicknamed the Cedars, Lebanon is one of the pioneering nations in the Middle East to have established an administrative body for association football. On March 22, 1933, representatives of 13 football clubs assembled in Beirut's Minet El Hosn district to form the Lebanese Football Association (LFA). Led by Hussein Sejaan, the LFA became a member of FIFA three years later.
They played their first FIFA-recognized international friendly against Mandatory Palestine on April 27, 1940, in which they lost 5-1. The Cedars had to wait 17 years for their first-ever international win, which occurred when they hosted the second edition of the Pan Arab Games. On October 22, 1957, they achieved a comprehensive victory by defeating Jordan 6-0.
Lebanon qualified for the AFC Asian Cup for the first time in 2000. Their next appearance in the continent's biggest showpiece event came in 2019. However, on both occasions, the Cedars were unable to progress past the group stage. The 2023 AFC Asian Cup will mark their third appearance.
Lebanon achieved their highest-ever FIFA ranking of 77 in September 2018.
Form Guide - LLLDL
Lebanon are currently experiencing a rough patch, as they have only managed to win one out of their last 12 matches since November 2021. Their performance in the third round of the World Cup Qualifiers was challenging, with a bottom-place finish in the group, securing only one victory and three draws out of ten matches. They displayed valiant efforts in the FIFA Arab Cup; however, could only manage a third-placed finish behind Egypt and Algeria.
Adding to their miseries, the Cedras have failed to score in their last five matches. They are entering the Hero Intercontinental Cup on the back of three consecutive defeats, with the most recent one being a 0-2 loss to Oman in a friendly match held in March.
However, when it comes to the head-to-head record against India, Lebanon holds a significant advantage. This will be the eighth meeting between the two teams. Out of the seven previous matches, the Blue Tigers have only managed to secure one victory, while they have drawn twice and suffered four defeats.
The most recent encounter between the two took place in the 2009 Nehru Cup opener in Delhi, where Lebanon secured a 1-0 win. The only time India was able to defeat Lebanon was way back in 1977 during the President Park's Cup in Korea Republic, where they claimed a 4-2 win.
The Indian captain, Sunil Chhetri, has a history of scoring against Lebanon, having found the back of the net once in both legs during the first round of the World Cup Qualifiers in 2007. However, despite Chhetri's contributions, the Cedars emerged victorious with a 6-3 aggregate score.
The captain of the side, Maatouk, is the player to watch out for in the Hero Intercontinental Cup. The 35-year-old plays a pivotal role for the side and is capable of playing in different positions in attack. His vision and ability on the ball make him a potential game-changer. He began his senior national team career at the age of 19 and played his first game on January 26, 2006, in a friendly match against Saudi Arabia, which Lebanon won 2–1.
Maatouk holds the record for the highest number of goals scored by a Lebanese player, with 21 goals, and he is also their most-capped player with 101 caps.
Similar to Maatouk, Matar also represents Al Ansar FC in the Lebanese Premier League for his club football. Born in Ivory Coast, Matar is an attacking-minded midfielder who possesses excellent dribbling skills and flair. He is known for his proficiency in set pieces, serving as a specialist for his team.
Matar, who is 31 years old, made his debut for Lebanon in a friendly match against Iraq on January 22, 2012, which Lebanon won with a score of 1–0.
The forward, Saad embarked on his professional career in 2011 with Sporting Kansas City, the same club where Indian captain Sunil Chhetri played in 2010. Saad acquired his Lebanese passport in 2013 and made his international debut in a match against Oman in May 2013, where he scored Lebanon's sole goal in the 62nd minute, resulting in a 1-1 draw. Furthermore, he has represented the United States of America at the U-17 and U-20 levels.
In the absence of forwards Mohamad Kdouh and Hilal El-Helwe, Saad could prove to be a vital asset for the team.
Fixture: India vs Lebanon
Date: June 15, 2023
Time: 7:30 PM
Venue: Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar
Telecast: Star Sports 2, Disney + Hotstar, JioTv