Lebanon moved a step
close to reaching their first World Cup finals despite
losing 4-2 to the United Arab Emirates in the third round of
Asian qualifiers on Wednesday.
Kuwait's 2-0 defeat to South Korea meant Lebanon progressed
to the next stage of the qualifying process, finishing as
runners-up behind South Korea in their four-team group.
That progress had seemed unlikely as Lebanon stood 146th in
the FIFA rankings, the lowest of the 20 teams going into the
Coach Emile Rustom resigned on the eve of the campaign after
four months in the role, to be replaced by Theo Bucker, the
German taking charge of the Lebanese national team for the
second time, 11 years after his first stint.
"Looking at our opponents in the group nobody believed we
would be in a position to step through to the next round,"
Bucker told reporters on Wednesday.
"This match today showed us our weak points and now we have
three to four months to work on this in order to show a better
face when we continue this competition."
Lebanon are one of 10 teams who will play the fourth round
in two pools of five, with the top two in each pool qualifying
for the 2014 finals in Brazil while the third-placed sides will
play off against each other, with the winners playing the
fifth-ranked South American side.
Lebanon went into Wednesday's match knowing they would
guarantee progress by avoiding defeat.
They were backed by thousands of passionate supporters who
turned half the Al Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi into a sea of
red. With the UAE having no chance to qualify, the other half of
the stadium was almost empty.
A goalkeeping error by Abbas Hassan, who dropped a free-kick
from Basheer Saeed into his net after 20 minutes, allowed UAE to
go a goal up.
Lebanon equalised two minutes later when Mahmoud Al Ali
burst through to score but he injured himself in the process and
had to be replaced.
Ali Al Wehaibi restored the UAE's advantage eight minutes
before the interval, only for his side to be pegged back once
more when Hassan Maatouk equalised in stoppage-time.
The second half saw the UAE take control with Ismail Matar
and Saeed scoring with long-range strikes.
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