Lebanon coach Miodrag Radulovic ready to take the Cedars to new heights

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With five goals in the qualifiers Hassan Maatouk has led from the front as Lebanon qualified for the Asian Cup for the first time. (AFP)
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Updated 22 August 2018

Lebanon coach Miodrag Radulovic ready to take the Cedars to new heights

  • Montenegrin coach has his sights set on getting the Cedars to Asia Cup knockout stages next January.
  • There is a new found mental strength and excitement in the Lebanon game, Radulovic says.

DUBAI: It has been two years and five months since Lebanon last tasted defeat in an international fixture. Cedars coach Miodrag Radulovic has been pulling up trees since his appointment in 2015 and has overseen a remarkable FIFA World Rankings rise from 144 up to their current, record high, position of 79.
A first ever qualification for the Asian Cup was achieved in March and now, after 14 unbeaten games, Radulovic is aiming to take the team a step further than in 2000 when, as hosts, Lebanon exited at the group stage.
The Montenegrin has instilled a spirit that was previously lacking, notably making Lebanon a more steely side away from home. The Asian Cup qualification campaign was characterized by late goals, a reflection of the team’s newfound mental toughness.
“We have a great spirit and this is because I have worked a lot on the psychological side of the game with the players,” Radulovic told Arab News. “I talk a lot with them individually and try to push them to have confidence. You can see this has worked. No-one believed in Lebanon when qualifying started but we won the group.”
Radulovic’s belief in his side has been unfaltering and he was rewarded with five wins and a draw in qualifying, including a memorable 5-0 thrashing of North Korea in Beirut. Malaysia and Hong Kong were also put to the sword.
A focus on young players has been key to the evolution of this team, but while the Montenegrin sees plenty of ability, he believes the lack of facilities in Lebanon is seriously stifling further development.
“We are a new team, a new generation,” Radulovic explained.
“I have worked in Kuwait before and traveled all over the Gulf, but with Lebanon I see so much natural talent. However, they need infrastructure to help this talent progress.
“When I arrived here I was surprised how bad the infrastructure was and it is still very bad here. The federation needs to have its own stadium, its own training camp — because of this, all of our preparation for the Asian Cup in 
the next few months will be out of Lebanon.
“The recent success has helped motivate many Lebanese people to become more interested in football but still I didn’t see any improvement in facilities. This remains a fundamental problem — Lebanese players are extremely talented and they deserve better so they can improve.”

Radulovic has overseen Lebanon's rapid rise up the FIFA world rankings, from 144 to 79. 

One of those talented players is Hassan Maatouk who, at just 30, is one of the elder statesmen of Radulovic’s blossoming squad. After six years playing in the UAE for Ajman, Al-Shaab and Fujairah, the forward returned to Lebanon with Beirut’s Nejmeh SC in 2017 and has been prolific in his country’s recent unbeaten run. Lebanon’s captain and talisman scored in five of six Asian Cup qualifiers.
“Hassan Maatouk is a really good player and a very good person,” Radulovic beamed.
“He is really the leader of this generation. I have trained some fantastic players in my career including (fellow Montengrins) Stefan Jovetic, Mirko Vucinic and Stefan Savic.
“Honestly, Maatouk is right at the top level. He has helped the national team so much, he has helped me so much and really he is one of the very best players in the Middle East right now.”
Maatouk has been accompanied by a very capable cast, with an increasing number plying their trade outside of Lebanon. Radulovic believes experience of different football cultures has benefited his players, while he has also shown a great interest in tapping into the vast Lebanese diaspora around the world.
“Players learn a lot from traveling abroad. Then when they come back they talk to each other and share their experiences; this is a great aspect of playing overseas.
“Now we see players at a much higher level. Joan Oumari plays in Japan. I found Hilal El-Helwe in the fourth division of Germany, now he is playing in the top division in Greece. I have on my list more young players. Some of them will move to a better club and better level.
“Our Asian Cup squad is not set in stone; our scouting network is very good and we always look for new players. For example, there are five million Lebanese in Brazil and in Australia too (there is) a big population.
“In November we will travel to Australia to play two friendly games — one with Australia and one with Uzbekistan — I will meet some players there. I also have some players in Mexico and I hope that in September one of them, (former Mexico U23 forward) Jeronimo Amione, will join us.”


Sterling, Mbappe light up Champions League with hat-tricks while Spurs claim key win

Updated 23 October 2019

Sterling, Mbappe light up Champions League with hat-tricks while Spurs claim key win

  • Compared to Sterling, Mbappe took a sluggish 22 minutes to score his three goals

PARIS: Raheem Sterling and Kylian Mbappe both scored second-half hat-tricks in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday as Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Tottenham Hotspur all recorded big victories.
Juventus, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich labored to wins on a night which brought 30 goals in eight games, a third of which were scored by Premier League clubs.
Sterling’s three goals came 11 minutes apart in the second half as Pep Guardiola’s City thumped Atalanta 5-1 at the Etihad Stadium to maintain their perfect record in Group C.
The Italians had earlier taken the lead from Ruslan Malinovskyi’s 28th-minute penalty, but they were soon overrun and remain without a point in their debut Champions League campaign.
Sergio Aguero equalized from a Sterling assist and the Argentine scored a penalty to put City ahead before the break. Sterling then took over, although City finished with 10 men as Phil Foden was sent off late on.
“I should have had four. Riyad Mahrez put me through and I was looking to put one on a plate for him. But I went through and should have finished it,” Sterling admitted to BT Sport.
City’s will seal a place in the last 16 if they win away to Atalanta next, as nearest rivals Shakhtar Donetsk and Dinamo Zagreb played out a 2-2 draw in Ukraine earlier.
Yevhen Konoplyanka and Brazilian substitute Dodo netted for Shakhtar, with Dinamo’s goals coming in between from Dani Olmo and a Mislav Orsic penalty.
Compared to Sterling, Mbappe took a sluggish 22 minutes to score his three goals in PSG’s 5-0 romp away to former European Cup runners-up Club Brugge in Belgium in Group A.
Mauro Icardi scored twice for the French champions, who were without the injured Neymar but had Angel Di Maria in exceptional form — the Argentine set up four goals.
According to sports statisticians Opta, the last player to come off the bench and score a hat-trick in the Champions League was Spaniard Joseba Llorente for Villarreal in 2008.
“I wanted to start and I thought I was going to start, but the coach made his choice and I had to accept it. I also wanted to show that it’s difficult to get by without me,” Mbappe told French broadcaster RMC Sport.
PSG have a maximum nine points, are yet to concede a goal in Europe this season and will be through to the last 16 with a win at home to Club next month.
Below them, Real Madrid are up to second after claiming their first win in Europe this season. Eden Hazard set up Toni Kroos for a first-half strike that handed them a 1-0 victory over Galatasaray in Istanbul.
Meanwhile, there was a welcome win for Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham, who crushed Red Star Belgrade 5-0 in north London, three weeks on from their 7-2 humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich at the same venue.
Captain Harry Kane scored twice for Spurs either side of a Son Heung-min brace and an Erik Lamela goal as they moved up to second place in Group B on four points.
“We know we have had a tough run of results and that was the perfect way to respond,” said Kane.
They remain five points behind group leaders Bayern Munich, for whom Robert Lewandowski bagged two in a 3-2 win at Olympiakos that maintained their perfect record.
The Pole has 18 goals this season and 58 career Champions League goals — only Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Raul and Karim Benzema have more.
Youssef El Arabi gave Olympiakos the lead, but Lewandowski’s brace either side of half-time changed the game and Corentin Tolisso fired in a magnificent third before Guilherme pulled one back.
In Turin, Juventus needed a late Paulo Dybala pair to come from behind and beat Lokomotiv Moscow 2-1 in Group D.
Aleksei Miranchuk gave the Russians the lead on the half-hour and it took a stunning strike by Dybala to bring the Italian champions back level with 13 minutes left.
Moments later the same player scored from the follow-up after Alex Sandro’s shot was saved.
Juve are level atop Group D on seven points with Atletico Madrid, who edged out Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 thanks to Alvaro Morata’s 78th-minute header.