In a month from today, Lebanon will embark on a new adventure. This time, the Cedars will fly to South Korea as part of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. Lebanon will face Sri Lanka on June 7, then Turkmenistan on June 11, and finally South Korea on June 15.
What is the state of play of these three teams? What changes have taken place since 2019?
Sri Lanka, a highly decisive match
On October 15, 2019, Lebanon won 3-0 Sri Lanka. Since then, Sri Lanka dropped into the 205th position in the FIFA ranking. They now have a new coach — the Bosnian Amir Alagic. He was the former national team coach of Brunei.
Alagic said that “the standard of football in Sri Lanka is at an amateur level and will require a considerable amount of time to uplift it to a competitive level.”
The fitness level of the players might be an issue. Sri Lanka Super League started only on April 21.
The importance of the game against Sri Lanka for the Cedars is to improve their goal difference by scoring as many goals as possible. The difference with the first game is that the encounter on June 7 will be played on a good quality pitch and in a more favorable climate. It will allow our technical players to show the full extent of their talent and to speed up the game.
Turkmenistan, life or death
Turkmenistan also changed their coach. They are now under the direction of a local coach — Röwşen Muhadow. He managed Turkmenistan national team from 2002 to 2004.
Like Sri Lanka, Turkmenistan didn’t play a single friendly game since 2019. But they do have a good cohesion due to the fact that the vast majority of players come from the same club: FC Altyn Asyr. This club will participate in the group stage of the AFC Cup in mid-May. It will be an opportunity to look at them as well as to scrutinize them.
Following North Korea’s decision to withdraw from qualifying, Turkmenistan has a huge opportunity to advance to the third round by beating Lebanon. The big question is: will Turkmenistan’s players be able to manage their stress during the most important match in the history of this nation?
Against Turkmenistan, Lebanon national team coach Jamal Taha will have to put in place a very solid system in the midfield as well as a system allowing decisive counter-attacks.
In the first game, Lebanon beat Turkmenistan by providing a a very average performance. Joan Oumari and Bassel Jradi were absent. Their return might be the key for another victory.
South Korea, déjà vu
During the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification, South Korea snatched the victory at home in stoppage time. Can Lebanon this time manage to snatch the draw?
Several parameters are positive for Lebanon:
- South Korea might be already qualified to the round 3 before facing Lebanon. Will the coach Paulo Bento take the risk to align his best XI after a long season especially for European clubs’ players? He might want to avoid unnecessary injuries…
- After the 3-0 defeat against Japan on March 2021, Korean media criticized a lot the coach. They also drew an indirect parallel with what happened to Bento with Portugal. K-League United wrote: “After beginning the qualification campaign for EURO 2016 with a 1-0 home loss to Albania, Bento was given his dismissal, with rumors floating that the players had lost faith in his tactical approach and no longer wanted to play for him.”
This last assumption should not be ruled out. However, Korean players are known for their professionalism.
It will be a tough game but the Lebanese players have nothing to lose.