BEIRUT: Lebanon banished the painful memories of last month’s match-fixing scandal and romped to a 5-2 victory over Thailand Friday in their second match in Group B of Asia Cup 2015 qualification.
A first-half brace from Hasan Chaito and a deflected goal from Mohammad Haidar saw The Cedars race to a 3-0 lead before Hasan Maatouk and Abbas Atwi rounded off the rout after the restart, with consolation goals from Thitiphan Puangjan and Teerasil Dangda making the scoreline a tad more respectable for Thailand.“Definitely I’m happy, I’m happy for the team,” coach Theo Bucker said during a post-match news conference. “If we have our mental and physical freedom to work, we are able to show what we can do.
“The second half showed our weaknesses, but overall the team was good and the performance showed that we are a good team.”
Lebanon’s spiked intensity of the opening 45 minutes dropped considerably in the second half, and the German warned his side that an improved level of fitness was necessary for Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier against Uzbekistan Tuesday.
“Our weakness is in the midfield. We don’t have players who can maintain the same intensity for 90 minutes,” he said.
“We are losing the aerial balls in the middle of the battle for the second ball, and creative passing must be converted into high levels of fitness.”
The gushing wind and intermittent showers did little to hamper a determined Lebanon outfit, who inundated their continental foes with a procession of probing attacks.
The adverse conditions had a reverse effect for The Cedars: Playing with the wind beneath their sails, they excised the barren 90 minutes of their opening fixture against Iran, taking the lead inside five minutes following some individual brilliance from Chaito.
The Ahed player pierced through the Thailand back line to receive the ball before turning to rifle his shot through the legs of Sivarak Tedsungnoen.
Thailand were visibly shell-shocked, and Bucker’s men, baying for blood, slowly upped the ante. Flowing football was permeating through the hosts’ play, with Maatouk, Haidar and Chaito blossoming in the forward triangle.
And on 19 minutes, Chaito doubled his tally and the team’s lead, with another well-worked goal. Playing on the shoulder of the Thai defense, Chaito brushed past his marker after Maatouk slipped him a trenchant through ball, and with only Tedsungnoen to beat, he shrewdly cut inside before caressing his side-foot into the open net.
Thailand were struggling to find answers to Lebanon’s newfound guile in attack. Roda Antar and Abbas Atwi were afforded free rein in the middle of the park, and the alteration bore immediate fruit.
Lebanon’s front line continued to operate majestically with Maatouk and Haidar terrorizing the guests’ flanks. A snapshot effort from Antar had Tedsungnoen scrambling across his line, before Haidar came close with a searing strike that the keeper did well to save.
But on 29 minutes Thailand were at a loss to stop the rot, as Haidar’s sustained period of good work finally paid dividends with a goal. Diligently working the left side throughout the first half, the Safa dynamo collected near the byline, working for an angle before his curled effort clipped a Thai defender and sailed into the bottom corner.
Lebanon by now were gliding through orbit, as their cut-and-thrust passing showed no signs of abating. Their assiduous work rate allied with some brilliant pass and move attacks were slicing through Thailand like a hot knife through butter, and on 36 minutes they breached their opponents’ rearguard for the umpteenth time.
Some nifty play on the outskirts of the Thailand 18-yard box allowed Maatouk to bypass the defense undetected, and as he readied himself to shoot, the pacey winger was upended by a clumsy tackle from Thitiphan.
The referee wasted no time pointing to the spot, and Maatouk dusted himself down to take the spotkick, but fluffed his shot with Tedsungnoen saving comfortably.
The miscue would have irked the insufferable Bucker, and moments into the second half, it looked costly when Teerasil sliced his shot into the top corner of Hasan’s goal.
Lebanon responded soon after when Maatouk made a darting central run picking up the ball from Chaito’s defense-splitting pass before rounding Tedsungnoen and placing the ball into the open net.
The Cedars began to tire toward the end, and Thitiphan took full advantage, beating two defenders and lacing a powerful shot past Hasan.
With Thailand pushing for a third, the Lebanese side made sure of all three points when Atwi capitalized on a mistake to fire his effort high into the roof of the net and restore his team’s three-goal advantage.
Lebanon, with a game in hand, move level with Kuwait and Iran atop of Group B, who are scheduled to meet in Kuwait City Tuesday.
Thailand were insipid for the most part and after the game, coach Winifried Schafer was less than impressed with his disappointing squad.
“That was very bad from our team, they made mistakes and the organization for the first goal wasn’t good,” he said. “I told my team we can change things in the second half, but we gave an arrogant pass for the fourth goal and that is unacceptable.”