Lebanon – the country, which at times is referred to as the “Switzerland of Middle East”, is famous for its beautiful landscapes, delicious cuisine, openness to Western culture and lastly, the toughness of its population. It is quite obvious, as the country had managed to reestablish itself after the French occupation, a civil feud and two treacherous wars with neighboring Israel. The ancestral home (to some) of Nancy Ajram (Lebanese singer), Carlos Slim (Richest man in Mexico), Shakira (the Waka-Waka girl and current girlfriend of Barcelona defender Pique), Salma Hayek, Carlos Ghosn (the first non-Japanese CEO of a Japanese firm – Nissan) and Marc Ghosn (my ex-boss, had to give him a shout at here). The list could go on…
Before taking you back to the actual point of Lebanon’s resiliency and its relevancy to football, let me briefly go over some findings of my own on the subject.
I have interacted with quite a lot of Lebanese people throughout my life. We have had our conversations on football. What was noteworthy about these classic discussions would be the fact that most of them really did not care about Lebanese football till now. For example, there were quite a few times I tried to initiate a discussion based on the 3 – 1 victory over UAE in the recent World Cup qualifiers with couple of my friends. However, the talks would change within a matter of seconds to the likes of Manchester’s, Champions League, Ronaldo and Messi. It was like they had a feeling that the win was a fluke, and the team has no shot at qualifying to the final stages.
This sort of brashness is only expected, as they simply want to show off their know-how about the sport and get views on their assertively indicated judgments.
But little did they realize that these qualifiers were not to be undermined. After the heavy 7 – 2 defeat by the UAE in a friendly, few weeks before the beginning of the World Cup qualifying campaign, any enthusiast supporting the team would have rolled their eyes while smoking the hookah. The game also featured late Theyab Awana (RIP) embarrassing the keeper (Abbas Hassan), with a disrespectful back-heel penalty. Watch it below if you missed it.
To makes things worse, they were handed a welcome thrashing (6 – 0) by Korea in the opening game of the qualifiers. But from their on, the tide had turned. They walked away finishing second in the group and also redeeming themselves from that embarrassing loss against UAE with a crucial 3 – 1 victory.
They had qualified to the final stages of the AFC qualifiers. They wrote history as people with even the tiniest bit of Lebanese tend to. They had managed to shock themselves and the entire Asian footballing community.
And most significantly, the players have been infused with a restored confidence in their capabilities that was lacking previously.
Football definitely functions in successions, and Lebanon is clearly in that phase of good form and most importantly, team unity right now. The progress has raised a sense of unanimity among the different sects that make up the country as a whole and the 22 footballers in specific. This is testament to the fact that the people today, are able to forego their divides and stand united in the nation’s success. This is Lebanon, the united Lebanon.
All eyes will be on the team as they kick-off the third and the final leg of their journey towards the World Cup come June 3rd.