‘Focus on the future’ Maatouk tells team
‘Focus on the future’ Maatouk tells team
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.
MS Dhoni drives Chennai to 5-wicket win over Bangalore in IPL
BANGALORE: Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni bludgeoned an unbeaten 70 off 34 balls and led Chennai Super Kings to the top of Indian Premier League points table with a five-wicket victory over Royal Challengers Bangalore on Wednesday.
Dhoni smashed seven sixes and a four and featured in a match-winning century stand with Ambati Rayudu (82) as Chennai reached 207-5 with two balls to spare.
Earlier, AB de Villiers (68) and Quinton de Kock (53) had lifted Bangalore to 205-8 with their 103-run second wicket stand after Dhoni won the toss and opted to field first.
“You will win some, you’ll lose some but the job of the finisher is to finish the job and help others,” Dhoni said.
Rayudu and Dhoni put Chennai back in the hunt with some brilliant display of power hitting after Chennai struggled at 74-4 in nine overs.
Legspinner Yuzvendra Chahal (2-26) and seamer Umesh Yadav (1-23) bowled economical spells upfront before Rayudu, who hit eight sixes and three fours, and Dhoni took charge by clearing the short boundaries.
“Rayudu is important in this line-up because he keeps the scoreboard moving, and small grounds are ideal for him,” Dhoni said.
Both batsmen targeted seamers Corey Anderson (0-58) and Mohammad Siraj (0-48) in the latter part of the innings which left Bangalore captain Virat Kohli disappointed.
“The way we bowled was just not acceptable, giving that many runs in the end was criminal,” Kohli said.
“Dhoni is looking in really good touch, he’s hitting the ball really well in this IPL but not great to see it against us.”
Rayudu got a life on 61 when Yadav dropped a sitter but made amends when he ran him out of a direct throw in the 18th over.
Needing 16 off the last over, Dwayne Bravo (14 not out) hit Anderson for a four and six off the first two deliveries to ease out pressure. And Dhoni finished off the game by lofting the New Zealand seamer over the long-on boundary for a winning six.
“What’s important in a chase is to know which bowler has how many (overs) left and who the captain will bowl when, and you play accordingly,” Dhoni said.
De Villiers’ blistering knock off 30 balls included eight sixes and two fours as he put on 103 runs with de Kock off just 53 balls.
But Bangalore lost three wickets for four runs as Bravo (2-33) took a smart return catch to dismiss de Kock and de Villiers got a leading edge off legspinner Imran Tahir (2-35).
Mandeep Singh survived a first ball missed stumping by Dhoni before played a little cameo of 32 runs off 17 balls which carried Bangalore beyond the 200-run mark.
Chennai now has 10 points from five wins in six matches while Bangalore is at No. 6 with four points from just two victories.