Lebanon edge Syria in thrilling WC qualifier

Lebanon players celebrate at the end of the match. (Photo by Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP)

BEIRUT: Lebanon ignited their World Cup aspirations with a thrilling 3-2 victory over neighbors Syria Wednesday.

A brace from Mohammad Kdouh followed by Soony Saad’s strike saw Lebanon take a commanding second half lead in Amman after Omar Khribin had put Syria ahead in the 20th minute.

Omar al-Somah's 64th minute goal made for a nervy finish, but Lebanon held on to register their first win of the final round of Asian World Cup qualification.

The victory sees the Cedars climb into third place in Group A, three points behind South Korea and a further two adrift of leaders Iran.

The top two sides will qualify automatically for the 2022 World Cup, while the two third-place finishers will square off with the winners facing an intercontinental match against South America’s fifth-place team.

After failing to score in their opening three group ties, Lebanon manager Ivan Hasek looked to liberate his side with a more daring formation in Amman.

Nader Matar deputized for the suspended Felix Melki in midfield, while playmaker Mohammad Haidar was drafted into the attacking third as Soony Saad filled in at left back.

But the myriad of changes failed to embolden Lebanon in the opening exchanges, as Syria dominated the ball and overran their opponents in midfield.

Syria’s promising early spell nearly bore fruit after just six minutes, Omar al-Midani heading inches wide from Aias Aosman’s inviting corner.

The hosts, however, would not be made to wait long for the breakthrough, taking a deserved lead in the 20th minute following a brilliantly crafted goal.

The move started all the way back in the Syrian defense, with center-back Saad al-Ahmad unfurling a peach of a ball to set Mahmoud al-Mawas scampering down Lebanon’s right.

The diminutive winger engineered just enough room before lifting a teasing cross for Khribin to score with a stooping header.

Syria nearly doubled their advantage 10 minutes later as Somah pounced on Joan al Oumari’s loose ball before his wicked strike forced an acrobatic save from Lebanon keeper Mostafa Matar.

The result could well and truly have been decided in the opening half hour, and Syria, quite stunningly, would be made to pay for their profligacy in a frantic end to the first half.

First, Hasan Maatouk darted passed his marker before squaring for the unmarked Khoud to poke home in the first minute of stoppage time.

Moments later Kdouh picked the ball inside the Syrian half and, with no teammate in sight, speared a searing long-range effort into the top corner to turn the game on its head.

Syria still seemed to be reeling from Lebanon’s late first-half salvo, when Saad collected Bassel Jradi’s lay-off and caught Ibrahim Alma unawares with a snapshot that somehow squirmed under the reach of the Syrian keeper.

Syria were then denied by a contentious VAR decision after Saad appeared to upend Somah in the box as Lebanon escaped unscathed heading into the final 25 minutes.

Somah finally got the goal that his sterling performance deserved, latching onto Aosman’s headed ball over the Lebanese backline and swiveling and shooting in one fell swoop to give Syria hope.

Hasek then introduced the impish talents of Rabih Ataya, with the substitution working a treat as Syria grew increasing desperate with time running out.

Ataya ran circles around the opposition defense, often extracting crucial fouls that stunted the flow of the game.

Robert Melki was equally important at the other end, returning cross after cross from whence they came as Lebanon stood held firm for a famous victory.





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