Bhubaneswar, Jun 9 (IANS): Lebanon opened their Intercontinental Cup 2023 campaign with a 3-1 victory over Vanuatu at the Kalinga Stadium, here on Friday.
The Cedars expectedly started the game on the strong foot, charging forward through the right flank. Ali Tneich had the day's first try at the target for Lebanon, but the midfielder couldn't keep it in the frame.
On the other hand, Vanuatu kept playing on the counter attacks and managed to keep their opponents at bay. In the 15th minute, the South Pacific Ocean nation made their first shot on target and provided a statement of intent. Godine Tenene cut in from the left flank and went for glory, but his scuffed shot was comfortably saved by the Cedars' goalkeeper Ali Sabeh.
Lebanon, nevertheless, kept marching forward and performed some darting runs through the wings. Their relentless attacking moves forced Vanuatu to stay on the back foot. Minutes before half time, goalkeeper Massing Kalotang turned up big for Vanuatu. The custodian denied Khalil Bader in the 40th minute when he tipped the ball away from the line and went on to make back-to-back saves against Hassan Maatouk's on-target attempts.
In the end, Lebanon were left to rue missed chances as the scoreline remained 0-0 at the break. The two sides showed reinvigorated spirit following the restart as the goodly crowd witnessed an end-to-end game in the initial part of the second half.
Lebanon finally broke the deadlock in the 59th minute. Skipper Hassan Maatouk delivered an inch-perfect cross from the corner and an unmarked Nader Matar redeemed himself after his first-half miss, by slotting the ball home. The Cedars' celebrations, however, were short lived as Vanuatu bounced back from nowhere, only three minutes later.
Substitute Jean Taussi saw his free-kick from the edge of the box saved, but the loose ball was tapped in with the utmost ease by John Wohale. With the scores at 1-1, the game took a lively turn as both sides displayed an intense game with chances coming in thick and fast on both ends.
Lebanon, who enjoyed the majority of the ball possession throughout the game, kept dominating the proceedings. Eventually, their efforts paid dividends as they took the lead once again in the 72nd minute. Skipper Maatouk yet again delivered a beautiful cross from the left corner and this time substitute Hassan Kourani, who was left unmarked by the Vanuatu defence, headed the ball in.
The Cedars took the game further away from Vanuatu's reach by making it 3-1 in the 85th minute. Karim Darwich was brought down inside the box by defender Jason Thomas and the referee immediately pointed towards the spot.
Darwich lashed the ball into the roof of the net and ensured Lebanon a comfortable victory in their first game of the tournament. It wasn't a surprise that the prolific forward was adjudged the Hero of the Match.