What needs to happen for the Green Falcons to soar into the World Cup?

Bert Van Marwijk issues last-minute instructions to his Saudi Arabia players. (SPA)
Updated 08 November 2017
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What needs to happen for the Green Falcons to soar into the World Cup?

Australia’s very nervy, but expected, 2-1 victory over Thailand in Melbourne now means Saudi Arabia know what they have to do when they face Japan to ensure qualification to next year’s World Cup in Russia.
The Socceroos bombarded Thailand’s goal, but it took a Mathew Leckie’s strike in the 86th minute to guarantee the Aussies all three points. Tomi Jurinc opened the scoring in the 69th minute before Pokklaw A-Nan shocked the hosts with 18 minutes left.
That has lifted Australia into second place in Group B, behind the already-qualified Japan, and has set the scene for the Green Falcons’ biggest match in over a decade.
Here’s Arab News’ lowdown on tonight’s crunch clash in Jeddah.

WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN FOR THE GREEN FALCONS TO FLY INTO THE WORLD CUP?
IF Saudi Arabia beat Japan, thanks to their superior goal difference, they are definitely through
IF Saudi Arabia draw Australia qualify automatically and the Green Falcons go into the fourth round where they’ll face the third-placed team — one of South Korea, Syria and Uzbekistan — from Group A.
IF Saudi Arabia lose then they could miss out altogether if they lose by five or more goals and the United Arab Emirates beat Iraq by four or more goals.

REASONS TO BE POSITIVE
1. Japan, although clearly by some distance the best team in Asia, are already through, and while there will be talk about putting in a good performance and ending qualification on a high, they’re only human and it will be only natural for them to take their foot off the gas.
2. The Samurai Blue only played five days ago, have had an 18-hour journey to Jeddah, will be jet lagged and not used to the noticeably hotter climate of the Kingdom at the moment. The hosts have had longer to prepare and will be used to the conditions.
3. Thanks to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, fans have free entry to the match. In these sort of clashes never underestimate how vital 60,000 passionate supporters could be if the match was still on a knife-edge with 15 minutes to go.

REASONS TO BE PESSIMISTIC
1. While Japan are already through and the coach, Vahid Halilhodzic, could rest some key players (Makoto Hasebe, the captain, will be missing, as will Shinji Kagawa) the fringe players will be desperate to impress the boss knowing that places to Russia are up for grabs.
2. A 2-1 defeat by the UAE last time out hinted at nerves with the finish line in sight. For a lot of these players, this is as good a chance of getting to a World Cup as they will get. Can they handle the pressure? The 60,000 fans will be desperate to see their country qualify for the first time since 2006 and can act as a 12th man. But if things don’t go the hosts’ way then nerves are all too easily transmitted from the stands to the pitch.
3. Japan have topped the group for a reason, they are far and away the best side in Asia and haven’t been beaten in qualification for over a year, a shock 2-1 home defeat by the UAE last September being the last time they tasted defeat. Whatever side they play, beating it will be no mean feat for the Green Falcons.


Joan Oumari makes case for Lebanon causing Asian Cup shock

Updated 18 October 2018
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Joan Oumari makes case for Lebanon causing Asian Cup shock

  • Lebanon have made it to their first Asian Cup since 2000 and are up to 77th in world rankings.
  • Oumari feels the Cedars have what it takes to upset a few of the big guns.

LONDON: While much of the focus ahead of the Asian Cup will be on defending champions Australia, who are one of the favorites, along with Japan and South Korea, Lebanon’s Joan Oumari is hoping his side can grab people’s attention and cause a shock or two.
The Cedars’ last appearance at the tournament came back in 2000 when they were hosts — this is the first time they have qualified for the tournament on merit.
Since their FIFA world ranking fell to 147 in 2016, Lebanon have been one of Asia’s most improved and in-form teams, with their ranking jumping to its current position of 77 — the highest in their history.
Drawn alongside regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia, Qatar and North Korea in Group E, it will not be easy, but Oumari, one of their star players, is convinced they can put on a show when the tournament gets under way in January.
“I think when we play and stay like we are now we can go far,” the defender told Arab News. “In football everything is possible and we have a great team.”
Oumari knows that just being back at the Asian Cup after a 19-year absence is already a victory for the nation of six million people.
“For sure it is a great thing for us as a national team, but also for all the people (of Lebanon),” the 30-year-old said. “I hope we will write history and get very far in this tournament.”
Oumari’s journey to play for the Cedars is an interesting, and not unfamiliar one in the recent climate of war, family displacement and refugees. His parents, both born in Lebanon, fled the country during the civil war of the 1970s, making their way to Germany, where Oumari was born in 1988.
Starting his professional career in the lower divisions, he gradually worked his way through the professional tiers of club football in Germany, playing for SV Babelsberg in the fourth division, FC Rot-Weiß Erfurt in the third tier, before making the step up to FSV Frankfurt in 2.Bundesliga in 2013.
Along the way he came to the attention of the Lebanon Football Association, and when the invitation came to join the Cedars in 2013, there was no hesitation in accepting and representing the country of his heritage, if not his birth.
“When I got the invitation from the national team for sure I didn’t have to think about it,” he recalled. “I was very proud to play for the national team.”
His debut in a 2-0 win against Syria in September 2013 did not go to plan, however, getting sent off late in the game. His next appearance would not come for almost two years after Miodrag Radulovic had taken over as coach.
“To be honest it was my decision not to play for the national team for these two years,” he said.
“The main reason was our ex-coach (Giuseppe) Giannini, because after he invited me to the national team I was on the bench and I am not used to flying all over the world just to sit on the bench.
“I am not a player who sits on the bench in my club and not in the national team. After Mr. Radulovic started at the national team the federation called me and convinced me to come.”
The change in fortunes for the Cedars since Radulovic took over has been remarkable, and as it stands they are one of the most in-form teams in Asia, going 16 games without a loss dating back to March 2016.
A friendly match with defending Asian Cup champions Australia in Sydney next month will be sure to provide tougher competition, but given their form they travel to Sydney confident of causing an upset.
While the Asian Cup is within touching distance, Oumari’s immediate focus is on club matters and trying to help his side avoid relegation. Having made the move to Japan’s Sagan Tosu, becoming the first Lebanese player to play in the J.League, Oumari has been in and out of a side that has struggled for consistency and currently lie 17th in the 18-team league.
“I hope that we can avoid relegation and stay up, that’s why I came to help the team,” he said.
One of his new teammates in Japan is Spanish World Cup winner Fernando Torres, and despite the team’s struggles on the field, Oumari is loving his time in Japan.
“It’s really nice here and I like it very much,” he said. “I am enjoying the time with my teammates after training. For sure Fernando (Torres) is a great football player and any football player can learn from him no matter which position you are playing.”