Lebanon makes history, reaches fourth stage of World Cup qualifiers

A crowd of supporters cheered on Lebanon's national team as it played the UAE in a World Cup qualifying match. [Abdo Zakka/Al-Shorfa]

A crowd of supporters cheered on Lebanon's national team as it played the UAE in a World Cup qualifying match. [Abdo Zakka/Al-Shorfa]

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Joy filled Lebanon's streets after the national football team advanced to the fourth and decisive round of qualification for the 2014 World Cup for the first time in its history.

The Lebanese national team advanced by placing second in Group B behind South Korea, which won its match with Kuwait 2-0.

Lebanon advanced despite losing 4-2 to the UAE national team in a qualifying match on Wednesday (February 29th).

Group B included Lebanon, South Korea, Kuwait and the UAE.

Faisal Karami, Lebanon's Minister of Youth and Sports, accompanied the team to the match in the UAE, along with several parliamentarians and a large number of citizens from Beirut and the expatriate Lebanese community in the UAE.

Schools closed early on Wednesday by a decision of the Minister of Education to allow students to watch the national team on television.

When the match ended, Lebanese citizens took to the streets to express their joy and celebrate their team's accomplishment by launching fireworks.

"The national team's advance to the fourth round is a historic achievement in the annals of Lebanese football," sports journalist Zuhair Khairallah told Al-Shorfa.

"Lebanese players proved that given the resources and material and moral support, they are capable of great achievement and can produce excellent results, as evidenced by the fact that six of the players are playing professionally in countries like Malaysia, China, the UAE and Germany," he said.

He said the national team is capable of advancing further, but it needs to train harder and play friendly matches against better teams "because the teams it will face in the next stage are more athletic than [Lebanon] is, and the team needs to be well prepared".

Changing the team's mindset

Adnan Harb, director of the sports department for al-Binaa newspaper, told Al-Shorfa that the replacement of the coaching staff and the return of Lebanese professional players from abroad changed the team's fortunes.

He said there was a "need to retain professional players and change the mindset and makeup of the management team if we want to achieve results in the next stage".

The team recorded remarkable achievements in Group B qualifying matches, defeating the UAE 3-1 and South Korea 2-1 in Beirut, and Kuwait 1-0 in Kuwait to make up for a disappointing start when it lost 6-0 to South Korea in Seoul in the first round.

In November 2011, following its wins over Kuwait and South Korea, the Lebanese team recorded the biggest rise in the monthly rankings among member countries, rising 35 spots to number 111 in the FIFA rankings.

The government awarded each player 10 million Lebanese pounds ($7,000) following the team's win over South Korea and for advancing to the second round of World Cup qualifying matches.

Moussa Hojeij, a prominent former member of the Lebanese national team who is the technical director for the Nejmeh football club, said, "The efforts made by the players and the harmony among them has contributed to the achievement of these results, not to mention the addition of the professional players, which made a difference."

He said Lebanese football needs to make the transition from the amateur to the professional level because it would lead to a renaissance of the sport in Lebanon.

"We need greater co-operation to advance the sport as a whole because it is our national duty [to do so] and everyone, from the directors to the players, bears this responsibility," Hojeij said.