Lebanon captain Hassan Maatouk assisted twice as his team started its Intercontinental Cup 2023 campaign with a comfortable 3-1 win over Vanuatu at the Kalinga Stadium here on Friday.
The highest-ranked team in the tournament, Lebanon, started the match on the offensive, with its first shot coming within 45 seconds of kick-off.
Vanuatu’s reply came 16 minutes later when Jason Thomas intercepted Maatouk’s pass in the box and delivered a long diagonal pass for Godine Tenene, who marched up the pitch and whipped in a right-footed shot, forcing a save by Lebanon goalkeeper Ali Sabeh.
The scorching heat of Bhubaneswar, with temperatures soaring above 40 degrees did affect the course of play, with Tenene leaving the match on a stretcher right after that shot. Lebanon midfielder Khalil Bader also went down without any challenge in the first half because of the heat and was subbed off later in the game.
Maatouk, Lebanon’s highest goal scorer of all time, was the cynosure of play, from starting attacks, changing the direction of play to going on to shoot for a goal himself.
While the first-half finished goalless after several missed chances by Lebanon, it struck right after Vanuatu dropped its guard, subbing off its captain and defender Brian Kaltak at half-time.
At the hour mark, Maatouk’s cross was hit on the volley by an unmarked Nader Matar, as the ball got in under the legs of Massing Kalotang.
Hardly had the boys in red regathered, Vanuatu made it all square three minutes later. Tasso Jeffery’s free-kick, a chip with his right foot, was first saved by Sabeh only for John Wohale to shoot it back into the net.
From then on, Lebanon put its foot on the gas and within 10 minutes, it was back ahead again.
Maatouk’s free-kick was headed in by Hassan Kourani in the 73rd minute because of another defensive error by Vanuatu.
Jason Thomas, the Vanuatu defender who had looked well with captain Kaltak in the first half, lost his discipline late in the game and pushed Karim Darwich inside the penalty box.
The Lebanon No. 9’s shot rattled the net after a deflection off the bar to end the game in the favour of Aleksandar Ilic’s side.
For Lebanon, it was its first win since December 2021, while Vanuatu would find solace in the fact that the missed chances by its opponent helped the scoreline reflect a less embarrassing match-up.
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