BEIRUT: There were tears aplenty and high emotions on both sides in Belgrade as Italy became the 14th and final nation to qualify for the 2013 Rugby League World Cup at the expense of a disappointed Lebanon.
The Azzurri secured a place in Group C of the main tournament on points’ difference thanks to a 78th minute drop goal from scrum half Ryan Ghietti, which secured a 19-19 draw with luckless Lebanon.
The Cedars had fought back from an 18-0 halftime deficit and looked set to have claimed victory when Nadim Couri’s one-pointer edged them in front with only four minutes remaining.
However, from the restart, Lebanon fumbled a possession and in the resulting set, Northern Pride’s Ghietti struck to devastating effect.
The difference for qualification ultimately came down to Lebanon not scoring enough points in the second half of their match in Russia the week before when they were restricted to only one other score in the second period while Italy’s bigger win over Serbia saw them go into the crunch clash with an eight point advantage.
A first minute altercation in front of a vibrant Serbian crowd set the tone for a physical encounter but poor discipline by Lebanon proved to be their undoing, losing the penalty count 7-2 in the first half, and 11-6 overall, when they conceded three converted tries.
By the end of the first quarter, prop Alex Ranieri and back rower Cameron Ciraldo had been forced from the field but when the Cedars failed to defuse a steepling bomb and conceded a second set of six near their own line, Italian loose forward Ben Falcone latched on to a fine offload to open the scoring.
On the half hour, Lebanon looked as though they would level but a knock on ruined a long Nick Kassis break and almost immediately Italy struck for their second score.
The impressive Wyong winger, who has had a terrific qualifying tournament, then went over five minutes from the break on the end of a flowing passing move, the decisive long ball coming from skipper Anthony Minichiello.
Lebanon, revived by coach David Baysarri’s exhortations during the interval, came out with renewed intent at the start of the second period, but a long Ray Moujali break in the 42nd minute again ended with Lebanon squandering a possession.
Soon after, another Kassis bust set the position for Adnan al-Zabedieh to go over.
Momentum shifted after two tries were scored in as many minutes in the lead up to the hour, as first Moujali powered over and, with the Cedars making ground with every set, a kick on the last tackle took a fortunate bounce and James Boustani was on hand to take a scoring offload, Couri adding his third successful conversion to level the match.