لبنان / Lebanon
- Capital: Beirut / بيروت
- Official Languages: Arabic
- Recognised Languages: French
- Nicknames: رجال الأرز (The Cedars); صبايا الأرز (The Lady Cedars)
- Association: Lebanese Football Association (LFA) / الاتحاد اللبناني لكرة القدم / Fédération Libanaise de Football
- FIFA Code: LBN
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Asian Cup Result (Men): Group Stage (2000, 2019)
- Best Asian Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best WAFF Championship Result (Men): Group Stage (7 times)
- Best WAFF Championship Result (Women): Third Place (2007, 2019)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 77th (September 2018)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 92nd (December 2009)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 178th (April-May 2011)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 148th (September 2018)
- Most Capped Player: Hassan Maatouk – 89 caps [as of Feb 2021]
- Top Scorers: Vartan Ghazarian & Hassan Maatouk – 21 goals [as of Feb 2021]
The West Asian country of Lebanon, officially known as the Lebanese Republic, is situated on the coast of the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The Lebanese FA joined FIFA as early as 1936, when it was still under the ‘mandate’ of France although the country became independent seven years later. Despite its lengthy history within football, success for the national teams has been fleeting at best. They achieved some modicum of success in the 1960s in the Arab Nations Cup, but have been unable to impact Asian major tournaments until most recently. The Cedars managed to qualify for their first major tournament in the 2000 Asian Cup by the fact they hosted the tournament, but were unable to progress beyond the group stage. However in the most recent Asian Cup in 2019, they finally qualified for their first major tournament, where they picked up their first Asian Cup victory over North Korea 4-1. Sadly they just missed out on progression to the knockout stage on disciplinary points – a very harsh decider.
Despite suffering heartbreak in the Asian Cup, they are currently regarded as one of the better teams within the Asian confederation having been ranked as the 12th best side in Asia during the qualification draw phase for the 2022 World Cup, and within the second tier of teams in the group draw. They are currently in a tussle to progress from their World Cup qualfiying group, with themselves, South Korea and North Korea all tied on eight points, and just a single point behind provisional group leader Turkmenistan on nine points.
Talking about one of the improving teams within the West Asian sub-confederation, and a team who qualified for just their second ever Asian Cup in 2019, we interviewed the brilliant Ale Nehme and Maroun Mahfoud. They are two talented guys who work for FA Lebanon, with Maroun being a reporter and writer for its website, whilst Ale is the web designer and developer of the website. To find their social media accounts, as well as FA Lebanon‘s website, follow the links below:
Key: AN = Ale Nehme; MM = Maroun Mahfoud
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
MM: Vartan Ghazarian; he’s very strong technically. He is the joint-top national team scorer with 21 goals in 66 games, and he is also the league’s second-highest all-time goalscorer with 117 goals. The impact he had on the game in Lebanon is incredible.
AN: For me Hassan Maatouk‘s numbers speak clearly. Joint-top goalscorer and the most caps for the national team, the all-time scorer at Fujairah in the UAE, 4 times Best Player Award in the Lebanese Premier League (two of them in his last two seasons before moving to the UAE, and two more in his two years once he returned).
MM: Bassem Marmar. He has a very good understanding of the game compared to his peers that have already proved themselves in the league. His work from the youth development to the first team is one of the best in the country and his success speaks for itself. Having won the 2019 AFC Cup with Ahed, he is the only Lebanese coach to lift a major continental title.
AN: Everything linked to Ahed’s recent success can be traced to Bassem Marmar: as their captain, assistant coach, youth coach, and head coach. He has been involved in all of Ahed’s titles in history, especially their 2019 AFC Cup success.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
MM: Moussa Hojeij.
A technically good player, Nejmeh’s fans really liked him. When he had problems with the LFA, Nejmeh fans started chanting: “Moussa Hojeij men el dahab, 3ala ayro (a cuss word meaning “dick“) el muntakhab“. (‘Moussa Hojeij is made of gold, he isn’t interested in the national team‘).
He was the “spoilt boy” of Nejmeh’s fans. Whatever game he was benched at, Nejmeh fans would chant all game demanding the coach to bring him forward.
AN: When researching the history of Lebanese football, I came across Muhieddine Itani. A dynamic full-back during the 50s and 60s, Itani was known for his off-the-field antics. On a trip to Tunisia for a friendly game, the Lebanese team were well-received by the locals: a mizmar (local flute) player was also present. As he was annoying the team with his music, they asked Itani to make him leave. In turn, he started dancing next to him and put his hand below the musician’s skirt, who continued to play while jumping up and down!
In more recent history, Alexander Melki‘s defensive performance versus South Korea at the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers was hailed by all Lebanese fans, for shutting down Son Heung-min throughout the 90 minutes. Lots of memes ensued, asking Melki to “remove Son from his pocket“.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from Lebanon currently?
MM: Maatouk, easily. Head and shoulders above everyone else.
AN: Maatouk, no need to comment further.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
MM: Following the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, we find ourselves in a building state. The average age is high; the head coach, Jamal Taha, has been appointed to try to rebuild a younger generation, capable of at least outperforming the current one.
AN: In recent history we have gone through two “rebuilding” attempts. The first, from 2015, looked towards the diaspora to rebuild the national team, whose core was made up of older players (Roda Antar, Youssef Mohamed, Abbas Atwi, etc.). Under coach Miodrag Radulović, ever since, we brought in professional players from abroad such as Soony Saad, Joan Oumari, Hilal El Helwe, and the Melki brothers (Felix and Alexander), to name a few.
That rebuilding phase was a relative success, having qualified to the 2019 Asian Cup. Now, we are looking to lower the average age of the squad under Taha.
Q. Are there any Lebanese players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
MM: Hady Ghandour. A 20 year-old striker born in England, he plays for the U23s of EFL League One side Charlton Athletic. He is an exciting and very young talent, especially in Lebanese terms.
AN: While there are many local prospects in Lebanon, none really stand out that much. A couple of names on the top of my head are striker Mohammad Kdouh [23 year-old currently on loan at Iraqi side Amanat Baghdad] and right-back Andrew Sawaya [20 year-old playing for Nejmeh]. Still, I would also have to go with Hady.
Q. Looking at Lebanon’s international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
MM: The 2011 game versus South Korea for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. We won 2-1, qualifying to the final stage of the World Cup qualifiers for the first time in our history. It represented hope towards what could have been for the future of the national team.
AN: Easily the South Korea game in 2011.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
MM: The whole 2013 match-fixing scandal. It destroyed all our hopes of potentially qualifying to the World Cup, as many players were found guilty of match-fixing and bribery.
AN: While not exactly a “low” point, I would say the whole 2019 Asian Cup campaign was very unlucky from the start. Firstly, as a pot 2 team, the pot 3 team that we were drawn with was Qatar, who went on to win the actual tournament. In the first half of the game against Qatar, we had a goal unjustly disallowed. In the second half, Maatouk was booked for protecting his face from a shot which went to his face; Qatar scored from the following free kick. The match ended 2-0 to Qatar. After losing 2-0 against Saudi Arabia, we needed to win by 4 goals or more against North Korea to qualify to the knock-out stage. After conceding an early free kick, we went on to win the game 4-1, in a game were we could have easily scored 4 more. We were knocked out of the tournament on the “fair play” rule, as we had 2 more yellow cards than Vietnam in the third-placed ranking.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Lebanese national team?
MM: The best thing is that you can never know what’s coming. The worst thing? You can never know what’s coming…
AN: Best: To support your country and watch a different level of football compared to European football. Worst: Everytime it seems that take a step forward, we take two steps backwards. The lack of care and investment in the sport is frustrating.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
MM: The chants are mostly for clubs, mainly adopted to the national team. Mostly, they are spin-offs on popular Lebanese songs.
Spinoff of “Ghassan Rahbani – 2000“
El ka’s mesh darure,
wel dawre mesh daroure,
aham men el daroure,
nateijik ya “x”
(The cup isn’t necessary,
and the league isn’t necessary,
more important than the necessary,
are your results oh “club name”)
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
MM & AN: The 1960s shirt
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Lebanese national team?
MM: Hopefully to make it to the World Cup one day.
AN: To reach the knockout stages of the 2023 Asian Cup.
A massive شكرا جزيلا to Ale and Maroun from FA Lebanon for answering our questions on the Cedars. Remember you can find their excellent account and website in the links at the top of the blogpage.
If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.