‘Focus on the future’ Maatouk tells team

Hassan Maatouk has been a key man in The Cedars making it to an Asian Cup for the first time on merit. (AFP)
Updated 11 November 2017
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‘Focus on the future’ Maatouk tells team

LONDON: Even though they have already made it to their first Asian Cup since 2000, Lebanon have been warned that the hard work is only just beginning.
That’s the rallying call from the side’s captain Hassan Maatouk who insisted The Cedars must not fall foul of complacency and keep focused on the ultimate aim: A good run in the 2019 tournament.
There hasn’t been a lot to cheer about for Lebanon over the past few decades, but a slice of history will be in the making when they travel to Hong Kong on Tuesday for their penultimate qualifier.
Their only previous appearance at the tournament came by virtue of being hosts. On that occasion they were bundled out in the group stage after two draws and a loss from their three matches.
Never before have Lebanon qualified for the tournament on merit. Until now.
Sitting five points clear of second-placed North Korea and third-placed Hong Kong, they go into Tuesday’s clash knowing that they have already qualified for the expanded 24-team tournament, set to take place in the UAE in 14 months’ time.
That might tempt some players to take it easy, not least because Lebanon easily beat Hong Kong 2-0 when the sides met in the first qualifier in March.
But Maatouk has warned that while making the Asian Cup was a huge achievement, the real hard work begins now.
“Now we must work harder, we must make good friendly games and good camps to be ready for the Asian Cup,” the 30-year-old told Arab News.
“We don’t want to go to the Asian Cup only to lose, we want to make good results to prove we are a good team. (For) maybe 13 games now we haven’t lost, we have many professional players outside (the country), so we can do good at the Asian Cup.
“It’s not so easy, but we can prove ourselves at the Asian Cup and when you play bigger teams, you play better and we have many quality players, we have players who are confident so we can get good results.”
The winger, who left UAE first division club Al-Fujairah, now coached by Diego Maradona, in the off-season to return home to Lebanon to play for Nejmeh, added that the side was now settled and has all the attributes needed to do well, as well as being excited at having made history for their country.
“It’s the first time for the national team to qualify from the group directly, so all the people they are happy,” the skipper said.
“These last two or three years we worked hard with the new coach (Montenegrin Miodrag Radulovic) and it was not so easy to qualify for the Asian Cup. (But) we are a good group, a good national team, with good players.
“We worked hard and we are now in a good situation. We are happy for this, because we are the team that took Lebanon to the Asian Cup.”
The Cedars’ recent run of good form makes them one of Asia’s most in-form sides, going undefeated in their past 11 matches dating back to March last year.
The most impressive of those performances was a 5-0 hammering of North Korea, traditionally one of the strongest “second-tier” nations in Asia, with Maatouk scoring his 17th goal for his country in the process, taking him just three shy of Lebanese legend Roda Antar, who he replaced as captain in 2016.
“It was one of the best games we played,” Maatouk said of their win over North Korea in Beirut.
“We played good football, and we’ve now played against many teams and proven we are a good team, and not easy to play against. We proved that we are a good team, that we can win, that we have good players.
“All the teams now know that Lebanon has many good players and they are a good team who play with a lot of heart, I think people know that now.”
The added responsibility of the captaincy hasn’t weighed down Maatouk, who has scored three times in four matches in this third round of qualifying.
With his confidence flying high, you wouldn’t back against him adding to that tally against Hong Kong as he looks to be the first captain since Jamal Taha to lead his nation at an Asian Cup.


Simona Halep positive despite Dubai defeat by Belinda Bencic

Updated 21 February 2019
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Simona Halep positive despite Dubai defeat by Belinda Bencic

  • Former world No.1 blames three-set loss on tiredness after nine matches in 13 days.
  • Halep has high hopes for the rest of 2019, saying her game is in good shape.

LONDON: Simona Halep is still certain a good year lies in store for her despite losing to Belinda Bencic in the Dubai quarterfinals.
The Romanian former world No. 1 was the favorite to win her second title in the emirate but ran out of steam as her Swiss opponent ran out 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 winner.
It was Halep’s ninth match in just 13 days and she admitted tiredness had caught up with her.
“It was really difficult physically. I was tired,” the world No. 2 said.

Bencic came from a set down to beat the favorite in the last-eight encounter in Dubai. (AFP) 


“After the second set, I felt like I’m getting cramping a little bit. It’s normal. I was sweating a lot.”
While, her fatigue was clear for all to see, Halep was not using it as an excuse, admitting Bencic, who has now beaten her in two of their three matches, was the deserved winner.
“Yeah, she played well. She played very well. In the end, she was a little bit stronger,” the Romanian said.
Having lost in the Qatar final last weekend and failed to make the last-four in Dubai you might think Halep would be disappointed with her Middle East stint. She was, however, far from glum and revealed she is looking forward to landing more titles to add to her collection during the rest of the year.

Cheerio from Halep after her defeat to the Swiss. (AFP) 


“I think were three good weeks. Tough weeks. A lot of tension, a lot of pressure. Also the Fed Cup,” she said.
“I take only positive things. I had great matches. My level is good. Physically also I’m good. But day by day I had to play, so is not easy.
“I’m confident for the next tournaments.”