With three games remaining in the third round of World Cup 2022 qualifying in Asia, both Lebanon and Iraq find themselves with an outside chance at a spot for a playoff at best when the two sides meet at Saida Municipal Stadium in Sidon on Tuesday.
The Cedars have lost their last three qualifiers and sit four points behind the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for a place in the fourth round, while the Lions of Mesopotamia are still without a win in this group phase, after dropping a 1-0 decision to their arch-rivals Iran.
They have made some valiant efforts in this qualification round, but unfortunately for the Lebanese, more often than not, this side have fallen to superior opponents.
Ivan Hasek has rarely seen his players maintain possession for long stretches of a game, though they are well drilled, disciplined, and capable of hanging back to cover space.
That approach has enabled them to stay in most of their third-round encounters, but it is difficult to come away with wins when you cannot fire more than one or two efforts on goal or when you have the ball less than 30% of the time as they did against South Korea earlier this week.
While it remains a long shot for them to keep their World Cup dream alive, there is some hope that perhaps they can win their remaining games, seeing as their final three fixtures are versus teams that they have fared well against in prior meetings, drawing Iraq 0-0, beating Syria 3-2 and narrowly losing 2-1 against Team Melli.
This side can frustrate you because of how defensive they are, and while they do not generate many chances, when The Cedars are able to settle themselves and keep a match scoreless in the early stages, it can become increasingly difficult to break them down.
As focused and positionally sound as they may be for long stretches of a match, Lebanon tend to suffer a lapse or two in concentration at the most inopportune time, conceding two injury-time goals to the Iranians after being up 1-0 in their November fixture, while they gave away a penalty late in the second and first half respectively, falling to the UAE and the Koreans, both times by a 1-0 score.
The World Cup aspirations of Zeljko Petrovic and Iraq are fading fast, as The Lions of Mesopotamia will need a lot of things to go their way to qualify for the finals for the first time since 1986.
On Thursday, their one-goal defeat was rather flattering, given the number of quality scoring opportunities that they conceded to their Middle Eastern rivals as more often than not, the Iraqis were bailed out by some excellent goalkeeping from Fahad Talib.
Iraq made it into this stage of qualifying thanks to a little good fortune, as an own goal from Fung Hing Wa secured them three points against Hong Kong in the previous qualifying phase, but it appears as though their luck is running out after being dominated in their last two matches, both of which resulted in defeats to South Korea (3-0) and Iran.
This team’s defending has been anything but top class of late, conceding 10 times so far in this round, after only allowing four in round number two.
It does not help that two of their last three encounters will be on the road, where this side have had a ton of problems in the final third, going goalless in four of their previous five away matches played in all competitions.
It is nearing must-win time for Iraq, and even though things are not looking great, they have had plenty of success in prior meetings versus the Lebanese, winning 10 of their 17 encounters against them, while losing only once.
Lebanon World Cup Qualifying – Asia form:
Iraq World Cup Qualifying – Asia form:
Iraq form (all competitions):
We say: Lebanon 0-0 Iraq
Lebanon are well-structured and capable of holding teams for long periods of time, but we do not believe that they are able to possess the ball enough to create a sufficient amount of scoring opportunities and earn three points.
Iraq may be a better side than their record currently indicates, however, a lack of quality and experience in the attack has plagued them in this current campaign, and we expect that trend to continue in this match.