Lebanon suffered a 3-0 defeat to Australia Thursday, with first-half strikes from Tim Cahill and Matt Mckay securing a victory that was capped by an 88th minute goal from Archie Thompson.
The hosts battled diligently for most of the game, but struggled to cope with their opponent’s obvious superiority.
Lebanon next face Iran in a must-win World Cup qualifier Tuesday. When Mark Schwarzer received the news that his 100th international cap would be taking place thousands of kilometers across the Pacific Ocean, the 15-year Premier League veteran must have been smarting – hardly a fitting way to mark the milestone.
It’s irritating enough not to have your home supporters spurring you on, but to have to play a team ranked 103 places below you adds insult to injury.
But contrary to common thought, the Cedars are ascending like a freight train, finally becoming a football team worth mentioning.
Even the powers that be agree with FIFA’s recognition of Lebanon as the biggest movers on the world rankings, leaping 17 places from 144 to 127.
Then there was a power cut.
Twelve minutes into the showpiece, a floodlight failed, and once again all the commending and worthy praise was undermined in an instant.
Any credibility the Cedars possessed going into the match flickered before transcending into darkness, as the initial faulty floodlight turned into a full-blown blackout.
Up until that point Lebanon were moving the ball around with crisp efficiency, with returning hero Roda Antar at the heart of the midfield.
But to the dismay of fans in attendance proceedings would take a turn for the worse, and with the return of the lights Australia turned the screw.
Slick passing along with impeccable movement carved Lebanon open like a Christmas turkey, and on 20 minutes Cahill powered home a vintage header from Luke Wilshere’s delicious cross.
Before The Cedars could cry uncle the Socceroos struck again, following some immaculate interplay that once again laid waste to the host’s fulcrum.
Mark Bresciano and Cahill partook in a swift one-two before the former switched play with a pinpoint ball to Luke Carney, who had the easiest of tasks of finding Bursa Ipark midfielder Matt Mackay.
Mackay promptly slotted the ball past Abbas Hasan, with more than a helping hand from the ’keeper.
For the second time in as many starts, Hasan failed to cover himself in glory as key mistakes once again cost his team dear. Memories of Lebanon’s 4-2 defeat to the UAE are sufficient evidence that Ziad al-Samad’s understudy is a train wreck waiting to happen.
Following the early setback, the Cedars had begun to give a good account of themselves, with Mohammad Haidar providing the only bright spot on a rather bleak Lebanese night.
The Safaa talisman ran the Aussie defense ragged at times, with his electric performance further begging the question as to why coach Theo Bucker remains so reluctant to play him in big matches.
For the majority of the tie, Lebanon’s frontmen proved painfully ineffective, with Haider being the exception.
Abbas Atwi continued his attempts to perplex Cedars supporters, with Bucker’s insistence on playing him even more bemusing.
Hassan Maatouk cut a subdued figure for the majority of the match, with his consistent inefficiencies continuing to cast doubt on whether his place in Bucker’s 4-3-3 system is justified.
Lebanon maintained their forward thrust at the start of the second half, yet were found lacking a cutting edge.
The Cedars are fine when it comes to maintaining possession in their own half, but from the halfway line onward they are sadly at a loss.
Antar’s promising start faded badly following the restart, as the captain misplaced an series of passes,
His performance will raise questions about his match fitness after spending three months out injured.
Australia’s staunch backline limited Lebanon to speculative efforts.
An Antar strike that was collected easily by Schwarzer, and a surging run from Maatouk that culminated in a shot that trickled wide, were the only chances worth noting.
With time winding down, Australia compounded Lebanon’s misery with an 88th minute goal following a clever finish from Archie Thompson.
The diminutive striker latched onto an incisive through ball, and after Hassan overcommitted, Thompson astutely lifted the ball over the keeper’s head to complete the rout.
While the Cedars put in a brave performance the discrepancy in class was evident from the outset, as the match quickly turned into a game of men against boys.
With their World Cup qualifying hopes hanging by a thread, Bucker must look to calm his troops ahead of the Iran clash, as well as rectifying his faltering 4-3-3 formation that seems to have run its course.
The Daily Star’s Man of the Match: Mohammad Haidar