Five re­serves that could kick-start Le­banon’s flag­ging cam­paign

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - SPORTS - By James Jabra

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.

NADER MATAR:

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.

MO­HAMAD HAIDAR:

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.

RABIH ATAYA

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.

NOUR MAN­SOUR:

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.

ADNAN HAIDAR:

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.

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