Five reserves that could kick-start Lebanon’s flagging campaign
BEIRUT: With Lebanon underperforming in their opening defeat to Qatar and Miodrag Radulovic getting his lineup horribly wrong, The Daily Star looks at five reserves who might provide a spark against Saudi Arabia Saturday.
With Lebanon lacking any sort of punch in midfield, Nader Matar is a dependable option to step in and offer some dynamism.
The Nejmeh player was an integral part of qualification, starting four of the Cedars’ six matches in a midfield three for Miodrag Radulovic.
But, with the Lebanon coach opting for two in the middle against Qatar Wednesday, a change in shape will be required for Matar to feature from the off. Matar, who can also play as an auxiliary wide-man, would bring vision and composure to Lebanon’s midfield, as well as provide a threat from the flanks with his crossing ability.
The technically gifted Mohamad Haidar has never been a favorite of Radulovic, who leans more towards industry than ingenuity. Haidar only started two matches in qualification, with the last 10 minutes of matches usually reserved for the Ahed playmaker. That was the case Wednesday, when he was brought on in the 84th minute and hardly touched the ball.
The 29-year-old, who is excelling at club level in a central role, is also effective out wide. Haidar’s speed and ability to unlock defenses with a killer ball would be a welcome addition to Lebanon’s misfiring attack.
It seems an age ago when Rabih Ataya’s trickery and invention had defenses in his thrall. Despite dispatching minnows Hong Kong 2-0 in their opening qualifier, it was Ataya who kick-started Lebanon’s purple patch with a memorable cameo against Malaysia in the following tie.
With the Cedars trailing 1-0, he appeared for the final 10 minutes and single-handedly turned the game around, scoring twice to rescue a win for Lebanon and lay the foundations for an unbeaten qualifying campaign.
Ataya went on to feature from the start in the final four qualifiers, and his growing renown and on-field exploits earned him a summer move to Lebanese champions Ahed.
But Ataya’s form has since hit a brick wall, with 29-year-old no longer a regular for club or country.
One hopes that Ataya, who didn’t play against Qatar, is primed for another seismic contribution.
Ahed’s Nour Mansour was one of the mainstays in qualification, starting all Lebanon’s ties and emerging as a Radulovic untouchable.
Injury, however, has curtailed the center-back’s season, with the 29year-old making just six appearances for Ahed this season. His fitness is clearly a concern, as Radulovic opted to leave the versatile defender on the bench for Lebanon’s opener.
But despite his patchy form, he still appears to be a better option than recent Cedars recruit and Swedish-based Robert Melki. Mansour has bags of experience with the national side, and his leadership was sorely missed in the loss to Qatar.
He is also extremely comfortable with the ball at his feet, able to start attacks from the back and relieve pressure on the defense in the process.
Perhaps the forgotten man in the Lebanon squad, Adnan Haidar has shown he still possesses the requisite attributes to marshal a midfield.
With the defensive-minded George Melki and Haitham Faour cancelling each other out in Wednesday’s defeat, Haidar could be the one to bring some much-needed serenity to central areas. The metronomic midfielder has proven pedigree from some nine years spent abroad, while his passing skills and intelligence could help link what was an alarmingly disjointed unit against Qatar.
Matar offers some dynamism in the midfield, but a change of shape would be required for him to start.