Le­banon edge Hong Kong to seal top spot

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE - By James Jabra

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.

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