Lebanon edge Hong Kong to seal top spot
BEIRUT: Hassan Maatouk’s firsthalf penalty was enough to hand Lebanon a 1-0 win away to Hong Kong Tuesday that ensured the Cedars will finish top of Group B in Asian Cup qualification.
After North Korea’s 4-1 win against Malaysia Friday saw Lebanon book their place in the quadrennial competition, Miodrag Radulovic’s men might have been forgiven for dropping a level in Hong Kong.
But consistency has been a hallmark of Lebanon’s campaign so far as they continue to flourish under Radulovic’s tutelage. And they were once again well-drilled and organized against continental rivals, delivering a solid, if not spectacular, performance to extend their unbeaten run to 13 matches.
Their fourth win in qualification, however, looked far from certain early Tuesday with Hong Kong starting much the brighter of the two sides.
The hosts would have been ahead on 15 minutes but for a timely intervention from the impressive Mehdi Khalil in the Lebanon goal.
Wong-Wai’s delicious free kick caused all sorts of problems in the Lebanon box, with Andrew Russell rising highest at the far post to arrow his header goalward.
But Khalil utilized every inch of his imposing frame to scurry across the goal before clawing Russell’s effort to safety.
Lebanon’s narrow back line was affording Honk Kong time and space in wide areas, and the visitors were almost punished minutes before the interval.
Xu Deshuai’s fizzed-in cross from the right fell invitingly for the onrushing Daniel Cancela, whose first-time effort produced another acrobatic save from Khalil.
Just as it seemed Hong Kong were getting a stranglehold on proceedings, they contrived to gift Lebanon the lead.
After Samir Ayass had controlled just inside the Hong Kong box, Tan Chun Lok flung a lazy leg at the Lebanon midfielder who understandably went down theatrically to win his side a penalty.
It was quite inexplicable from Chun Lok, who was duly given his marching orders for the act of folly.
Maatouk stepped up to lift his spot kick over Yapp Hung Fai and deflate Hong Kong, who were eminently unlucky to find themselves behind.
Lebanon were far more comfortable after the break, playing with poise at the back and looking to pick their opponents off on the break.
It worked a treat, for the most part, with Hong Kong rarely threatening in the final third.
They did, however, come close on the hour mark, with Xu’s hopeful move forcing a backpedaling Khalil into yet another save.
Lebanon should have put the matter to bed late on, however Mohammad Zein Tahan couldn’t beat Yapp after being brilliantly teed-up by Maatouk.
It proved immaterial as Lebanon saw the game out to crystalize their place at the top of Group B with 13 points from five matches.
Consistency has been a hallmark of Lebanon’s campaign so far.