This article first appeared in the LAU Tribune: http://tribunelau.com/2012/03/12/give-abbas-hassan-a-break-and-expect-the-doable/.
For the first time in the small nation's history, the Lebanese national football team has qualified to the fourth and final round of the Asian qualifiers.
Despite the joy that the experience brought to Lebanese football enthusiasts in the politically-unstable country, there was a problem with the attitude of some fans following the 4-2 defeat the team endured at the hands of the United Arab Emirates.
Although the loss did not change the final outcome and the national team managed to qualify beyond the third round, some fans blamed manager Theo Bücker's decision to hand goalkeeper Abbas Hassan his competitive debut ahead of Ziad Al-Samad, who had started as first-choice keeper in the previous matches of the qualifying campaign.
And though Hassan’s performance on his competitive debut may have been unconvincing, fans must stand behind him instead of showering him with abuse.
Many fans jeered Hassan for his early blunder which gave the hosts the lead and held him responsible for the 4-2 defeat at the hands of the UAE while some players sounded their disappointment with Hassan’s performance, doubting his ability to remain as Bücker’s first-choice keeper.
Coming from Sweden where he plays for Allsvenskan (Sweden’s top division) club Norrköping, Hassan was under tremendous pressure to put in a reliable performance between the sticks. Despite the national team’s sealed qualification, some fans did not handle the loss quite well, and therefore did not celebrate with the players after the game ended. Since the Lebanese national team made it through, fans should have applauded the players and given them the confidence and support they will need as they prepare for the upcoming difficult contests.
Influenced by the Lebanese Broadcasting Channel's commentator Joseph Abi Chahine’s overenthusiastic comments that Lebanon would beat Brazil or Germany, a portion of Lebanese believed that their team is a favorite ahead of the competition with UAE. However, a fact that slipped their minds is that the Emirates had scored six goals against Lebanon just before the qualifiers started—not to mention that they have been investing for decades in their football.
Believing that the national team had transformed into an international giant overnight, fans were less the cordial with players after the loss, proving, once again, how we, the Lebanese, miss the point of international football: patriotism (may it rest in peace).
The patriotic citizens did not care to stand behind the players of the national team when they lost, nor did they care to watch them before their fantastic run.
When the players achieved the historic feat of beating South Korea, some groundlessly and hastily concluded that the team should win on every occasion. After a defeat that changed nothing, fans pointed their fingers at their own players, and their coach.
Shouldn’t the Lebanese applaud their national team regardless of the final result? What the national team has accomplished is, by all standards, a miracle. Neither the financing nor the preparations are adequate for a team that wants to play at the World Cup.
Modern football needs years of preparation. We can’t go to bed with the national team in terrible circumstances and believe that the next day we’ll be the favorites against heavyweights like Japan and Australia, or when we face oil-rich gulf countries who have invested huge sums of money in their teams for decades.
The way we have dealt with the snowstorm shows that planning is not something that we do specifically well in this country. If the national team is to improve its status, the federation should assemble a long-term plan. Only then, can we begin to demand—or even expect—to reach a major regional or international tournament.
Beating South Korea was a great achievement. But we must not let our dreams drift us away from reality: we are a small footballing nation. Working for six months does not erase decades of negligence.
Our stadiums lack top-notch facilities. Our players, like our people, are underpaid. Local coaches do not acquire any standard training before they start working with youngsters.
Lebanon has drawn South Korea, Iran, Uzbekistan and Qatar in Group A of the fourth and final round of the World Cup qualifiers.
All four teams have more prepared and experienced squads than Lebanon’s. Only a madman (most Lebanese would fit the bill) would be demanding that the national team reach the 2014 World Cup. Although we do have a chance to compete, we should really be hoping for decent performances rather than dominance.
Lebanon was only featured in the 2000 Asian Cup—and they were automatic entrants because they hosted the tournament— and they did not pass the group stages. If some miracle happens and we do make it to the grandest stage in sports, it will be a surprise.
For now, it’s good to see that the Lebanese were momentarily unified to watch a game of football, even if shortages in electricity and water and the ambiguity of the political future of the entire region failed to do so.
God bless the Lebanese mentality.