BEIRUT: Football can be a cruel game. As kick off loomed, thousands upon thousands of fans who had been left in the dark for the last six years flooded the Cite Sportive Stadium to see if Lebanon could recreate the miracle of a month ago when the Cedars stunned the UAE 3-1.
With two minutes of regular time left, the dream was on, then fate – or rather Mohammad Baquir Younis – intervened, silencing around 40,000 people.At the campaign’s start, a 2-2 draw with Kuwait would have sparked delirium; instead fans had to be philosophical in the face of disappointment.
Lebanon’s coach Theo Booker – the mastermind behind Lebanon’s minor resurgence who is spoken of with almost religious adoration in the local footballing community – was on hand to provide the philosophy: “If we had equalized in the last minute we would be happy.”
The home side certainly didn’t deserve to draw, but the throngs of newly found supporters could perhaps blame themselves. While their support was undoubtedly the biggest plus of the game, their inability to behave appropriately had its cost. With Lebanon in control of the game, the referee was forced to stop the game twice after a supporter shined a laser pen at the Kuwaiti goalkeeper. The halt in play that accumulated to around 10 minutes broke up Lebanon’s rhythm – the players looked tired after their break and momentum was lost.
Hassan Maatouk gave Lebanon the advantage after 15 minutes, calmly placing the ball past Nawaf al-Khaldi from 10 yards after a smart exchange of passes with Mohammad Ghaddar.
Lebanon enjoyed the lion’s share of possession for the rest of the first half with Ghaddar and Maatouk both using their pace to unsettle the Kuwaiti defense. Five minutes into the second half and Kuwait were level, Mesad Nada heading in from close range from a corner. Nada would nearly grab a second 10 minutes later but his header struck the foot of the post.
The home crowd’s boisterous support began to turn sour as referee Toma Maasuki called in his assistants to suspend play as the stadium’s announcer and captain Roda Antar remonstrated with the fans. The game recommenced six minutes later before coming to a halt again – if only for two minutes as officials lambasted one another on the touchline – with nearly 70 minutes on the clock.
With six minutes left to go Hussein Fadhel brought down Akram Moghrabi in the penalty area before Maatouk struck again to give Lebanon the lead. The ecstasy died immediately when Mohammad Baquir Younis prodded into his own goal from close range a minute later.
When the final whistle sounded, the disappointment was palpable. There were none of the celebratory scenes from a month ago but the crowded streets outside the stadium, the deafening car horns and the relentless flag flying showed few let the cruelty of the game dampen an electric evening.
Ziad Samad, Youssef Mohammad, Mohammad Baquir Younes, Ramez Dayoub, Hassan Maatouk, Haytham Faour, Abbas Atwi, Bilal Cheikh Najjarine, Mahmoud el-Ali (Ahmad Zreik 65), Roda Antar, Mohammad Ghaddar (Akram Moghrabi 53)
Nawaf al-Khalid, Amer Matoug (Mohammad Rashed 80), Fahad Awad, Hussain Fadhel, Mesad Nada, Fahad al-Enezi, Fahed al-Ebrahim (F Alrashidi 84), Talal al-Amer, Husein Mosawi (Abdilaziz Mashan 45), Bader al-Mutwa, Yousef Naser