Higher-ranked Lebanon will start as favourites against Djibouti in the FIFA Arab Cup Qatar qualifier at the Khalifa International Stadium on Wednesday, but they are not taking their motivated rivals lightly. “We have a team capable of winning the matches, but we are not taking anything for granted. In my opinion, Djibouti is not a weak team anymore,” said Lebanon coach Jamal Taha during the pre-match press conference yesterday.
On the team’s preparations for the match, he said: “We have played Asian qualifiers in South Korea, and I consider that as the best preparation for the match, especially from a physical and technical point of view.”
Djibouti’s recent results back Taha’s opinion, especially progressing beyond the first round of qualifying for a FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 for only the second time in their history at the expense of Eswatini, who they beat 2-1 in the home leg and held scoreless on the road. After six consecutive losses away from home in World Cup preliminaries, it was the first time Djibouti had avoided defeat on the road.
Those assured performances and others, including a draw with Gambia in the CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers and victory over Burundi in the 2019 CECAFA Cup, have allowed Djibouti to climb back to 183rd in the world rankings. It is a position the team last occupied 14 years ago after their temporary upturn in fortunes during the 2006/07 season.
Known as the Shoremen of the Red Sea, Djibouti, will require another selfless and inspired performance from its players specially Mahdi Mahabeh their most effective weapon, and their captain Daoud Waiss, against the Cedars, ranked 93, who are still in contention for a place at Qatar 2022.
Djibouti coach Julien Mette, who has been doing stellar work since taking charge of the team in 2019, feels they have a tough one-off round, but hopeful of a good show from his players. “Our task is not easy. It’s a play-off match against a good team, but we have belief in ourselves and my boys are determined to give their best against Lebanon,” Mette said.
Talking about his team’s strength the Frenchman said: “We have a young team with an average age of 25 years. The players have the desire to prove themselves and we tried to provide harmony between them to form a good team.”
Djibouti have defeated Somalia 1-0 in a friendly match recently and they are high on confidence.
“We are very happy to be in Doha and participate in the important qualifiers. We will play tomorrow’s match without any pressure and with a very great desire to win and ensure qualification. We know very well that the task will not be easy, but we must with great confidence in ourselves and our ability to perform at a good level, we will prove that we are a team to be reckoned with,” Waiss, who is the oldest player in the squad, said.
The 25-year-old Mahdi Mahabeh, who scored goals in their first-leg victory over Eswatini in the opening round of Qatar 2022 qualifying, is confident of a good show in Arab Cup. “If we manage to qualify, we’re capable of winning some games in Qatar. The main thing is to beat Lebanon and take part in this competition,” the strike said.
This inter-continental clash will provide the winner a place in Group D alongside Algeria, Egypt and Sudan. Today’s showdown will conclude a busy month of June for Lebanon, who reached the next round of World Cup qualifying after completing their latest set of Asian zone qualifiers in the Korea Republic. The Cedars will want another taste of tournament action after playing in the AFC Asian Cup in 2019 – their second appearance in the continent’s top tournament after hosting the event in 2000. Their achievements include third-place finishes in the Pan Arab Games in 1957 and 1997 – both of which were staged in Beirut. Lebanon also appeared in seven West Asian Football Federation Championships between 2000 and 2019.
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