‘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.


Virat Kohli calls on India to show Australia no mercy ahead of second Test

Updated 11 December 2018
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Virat Kohli calls on India to show Australia no mercy ahead of second Test

PERTH: Having become the first Indian team to win a Test series-opener on Australian soil, Virat Kohli’s side are determined to keep the momentum rolling into the second clash in Perth and inch closer to a breakthrough series triumph Down Under.
India were made to work harder than expected in the 31-run win at Adelaide Oval, and their bowlers will have only three days’ rest before taking to the field again at Perth Stadium tomorrow.
Despite the quick turnaround, Kohli suggested the tourists could not wait to land another blow on Tim Paine’s shaky side in the four-match series.
“They are at their peak, all of them together, and it’s something that we as batsman look at as an opportunity to put in good performances,” Kohli said of his attack, rated India’s most potent in years.
“We will be, in every Test match, gunning for a result.”
Compared to his counterpart Paine, Kohli heads to Perth with a spring in his step.
India’s Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami enjoyed a stellar debut as a pace unit in Australia, sharing 14 of the 20 wickets at the Adelaide Oval and limiting the hosts to a single 50-run partnership.
Kohli’s batsmen had got off to a poor start and needed Cheteshwar Pujara’s glittering 123 to achieve a modest first innings total of 250.
But after Australia were bowled out for 235, they seized the momentum and made sure of victory.
Though beaten and vulnerable, a chastened Australia can be expected to fight back hard on a wicket likely to suit their classy pace attack.
Kohli will hope for more from the recalled opener Murali Vijay, who has struggled to justify his place in the side this year. He managed only 11 and 18 in Adelaide, undone by Australia’s pace spearhead Mitchell Starc both times.
With sidelined young opener Prithvi Shaw seen limping around Adelaide Oval after his ankle injury during a tour match, the veteran Vijay should have another chance to stake his claim.
Kohli, who struck four centuries in the 2014-15 tour of Australia, is also due a score after being dismissed for three and 34 in Adelaide.
The India skipper noted that his team’s tail-end batting was trumped by Australia’s as their last five wickets could only muster 25 runs in the second innings.
A more determined application could have set Paine’s side a higher target than the 323 for victory, while saving India a lot of nerves on day five.
India first toured Australia in 1947-48 and have yet to win a Test series Down Under in 11 previous attempts.