Lebanon set up India SAFF Cup semifinal clash!

Skipper Hassan Maatouk 24th minute strike steered Lebanon to a 1-0 victory over the Maldives in a Group B match of the SAFF Championship 2023 at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Wednesday, June 28.

Lebanon have topped the group with an all-win record in the four-team group. With this win, Lebanon set up a semifinal clash with India to be played on Saturday, July 1, 2023. The two teams met recently in the final of the Intercontinental Cup in Bhubaneswar, where India emerged the winners.

The Maldives, ranked 154 in the FIFA Men’s rankings were hoping to punch above its weight by winning against Lebanon, whom they have never beaten in previously. However, the solitary goal from Hassan Maatouk dashed their hopes.

Since Lebanon had already ensured a place in the semifinals, it prompted their Head Coach Aleksandar Ilic to rest a few of his regular players, including Karim Darwich.

Lebanon started the match on a positive note, keeping plenty of possession and trying to stretch the Maldives defence.

The deadlock was finally broken in the 24th minute when Lebanon was awarded a free kick a few metres outside the penalty box. Skipper, Hassan Maatouk stepped up to curl in a right-footed shot past Maldives custodian Hussain Shareef. Hussain was left wrong-footed after Hassan’s shot took a deflection and went in.

The Maldives defence were struggling to cope with Lebanon’s constant surge during this spell. Hassan Maatouk combined well with Mohamad Sadek and Zein Al Abidine Farran to create havoc in the rival area.

Moments after the first goal, Lebanon squandered a golden opportunity to extend their lead when Mohamad Sadek missed from a close range. He shot well over the crossbar following Zein Al Abidine Farran’s brilliant pass from the right.

Farran created another opportunity for Lebanon as he chipped in a cross from the right to find Hassan Maatouk but his header lacked power to beat Hussain Shareef in goal. Maldives, on the other hand, failed to have a shot on target and Lebanon goalkeeper Mehdi Khalil was never tested.

Lebanon tried to extend their lead in the second half and had it not been for Hussain Shareef under the bar, the Maldives would have conceded a few more goals. He saved two brilliant attempts from Ali Al Haj in the second half to keep the Maldives in the game.

The Maldives finished their SAFF Championship campaign with only one win in three matches.

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