‘All of us! For our country, for our glory and for our flag!’
Vociferously repeated amongst the Lebanese faithful, passionately recited before a national event to rarely unite a country marred by sectarianism issues; Lebanon will embark on the path once again. June the 11th, 2015. Countless Twitter, Instagram and Facebook pages demand through the phrase ‘Kelna A’l-Mala’ab’ (all of us, to the stadium!) to encourage the support of the national football team. Lebanon’s previous encounter with Kuwait in the fight towards the World Cup brought in an attendance of 32,000 vehement Lebanese nationals in the vibrant city of Beirut.
However, the encounter will not take place in Beirut anymore as the southern city of Saida hosts the battle of the two evenly matched Arab rivals. This was not the first, second or third time that the nations were pitted together in a qualification tournament. Lebanon previously met the miniscule Gulf nation in the 1972, 1996, 1998, and 2007 qualification battles for either the World Cup or Asian Cup. That didn’t end there though with them meeting in qualification for the 2014 World Cup (2-2 draw, 1-0 win [Lebanon]) and 2015 Asian Cup (1-1, 0-0).
Therefore it is clear to see that the Cedars have provided an unnecessary pest in the last couple of years that has seen Kuwait unable to beat them. A further 4-0 loss inflicted by the U23s wrath in late 2014 simply added to the frustration of the Kuwaiti fan base. However, a level of uncertainty has been cast off the recent tenuous tenure under the (https://ahdaaf.me/2015/05/a-fresh-page-in-lebanese-football/) “Prince” in Giuseppe Giannini, a man who left the nation baffled with little to no cohesion between the first team players who see a largely different squad named by the current manager, Miodrag Radulovic – a man just off an adventure in, you guessed it, Kuwaiti football.
Unsurprisingly, Nabil Maaloul would have studied Radulovic’s Al-Jahra side which finished in the top four of the competitive Kuwaiti league. A quixotic manager according to Montenegrin football enthusiasts, Radulovic has set the team up in a 4-4-1-1 with Haitham Faour the alternating figure in central midfield. It will be intriguing to see the changes he will make now that the professional players have arrived with the team facing the same problem as recent opponents Jordan; a dented attack.
Mohammad Ghaddar, the famed goalscorer, is an experienced journeyman without a club hence the reason that he seems to have lost his touch and ability on the pitch. Feiz Shamsin and Hassan Maatouk, the likely starters on the wings are key to forming a partnership with Ghaddar in attack should he start. However, Moni and Khaled Al-Takkaji both provide dangerous options with the latter an adept inside forward while the former returning from an injury that has kept him out for over a year.
This match is pivotal in the race for the 2nd spot. South Korea are heavy favourites to land the top spot while the 2nd spot – providing the nation lines up among the best 4 teams in terms of points between them and 7 other nations – allows the team to qualify for the final round before the World Cup itself. An Asian Cup berth is a must for both Kuwait and Lebanon and it’s hard to see them not earning that although it’s the pride, honour and experience that stems from the final round that entices both Maaloul and Radulovic to step towards.
In fact, here, is a brief insight from Khaled Al-Mulla – a genuine, passionate Kuwaiti fan – (@90thMinWinner, his Twitter account) on his thoughts for the upcoming game:
“As any fan of his national team, I tend to be over optimistic in many situations, hoping we could prove the world wrong & slay the giants we fear. Unfortunately, tomorrow’s match is not one of those cases.”
“Nabil Ma’aloul has had a rough time in preparing a squad for the upcoming qualifiers. With Hussain Fadhel & Amer Al-Maatouk missing, the defense will have to comprise of either the unconvincing duo of Mesaed Neda & Fahed Al-Hajri that we witnessed in the Asian cup or a completely new look that may turn out to be a risk.”
“Attacking wise Kuwait doesn’t look too good either. In the 2/2 draw against Jordan both goals were scored by defenders (Neda & Al-Hajri mind you) & even before that match no striker has been consisten for Al-Azraq.”
“Without a doubt if Kuwait were to get something out of the game Nabil will have to put up a formation that brings out the best in Fahed Al-Enezi & Aziz Mashaan.”
How will football help a nation overcome it’s differences to unite as one? Boudy Ramadan, currently a Lebanese student and football player in England, previously for Manchester City EDS (interview here: https://ahdaaf.me/2015/02/friday-with-boudy-ramadan/) and Peter Khalife (interview here: https://ahdaaf.me/2015/03/friday-with-peter-khalife/) give us their messages:
Boudy: “I apologise to the fans again and I hope they understand the situation of me being unable to play with the national team just yet. It was either to go to the national team and repeat the whole year in university, or play for Lebanon a year later.”
“I urge all Lebanese from different areas in Lebanon to go and support their national football team on Thursday against Kuwait, the game is crucial and needs supporters… You guys will play a big role in the qualifiers.”
Peter: “I hope the stands will be filled up with Lebanese supporters. And I wish the Lebanese national team makes us proud and we all believe in them. CEDARS all the way!”
After all, the Lebanese fans are pivotal to the team no matter what the circumstance. In a 4-2 loss to the U.A.E in Abu Dhabi, Lebanese fans filled out 10,000 of the Al-Nahyan Stadium – compared to the hundred or so Emirati fans.
All of us, for our country, for our flag. The return of the legendary figures Youssef “Dodo” Mohamad and Roda Antar emphasises the unbreakable connection between the national team and its fan base.
A video to showcase the passionate Lebanese hopefuls, against Kuwait: https://www.facebook.com/mazen.khalifeh/videos/10151999668953185/