- Lebanon have risen to 87th place in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking
- Montenegrin coach Miodrag Radulovic has done immense work at the helm
- Lebanon recently qualified for the AFC Asian Cup for the first time in their history
Since reaching the final round of Asian qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, the Lebanese national side has gone from strength to strength.
Despite eventually failing to advance to Brazil 2014 and to the 2015 AFC Asian Cup (China PR claimed the spot allocated to the best third-placed team, narrowly pipping Lebanon to the post on goal difference), the Cedars continued to work hard on and off the pitch, bringing in respected Montenegrin coach Miodrag Radulovic, who has since exceeded all expectations.
After finishing behind Korea Republic in a challenging 2018 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying section that also contained Kuwait, Myanmar and Laos, Lebanon went into the qualifiers for the 2019 Asian Cup convinced they could finally make a significant breakthrough. In the end, this confidence was not misplaced, as they qualified for the continental competition via their performances on the pitch for the first time ever (they had previously qualified automatically as hosts in 2000).
Lebanon’s recent series of positive results has seen them shoot up to 87th spot in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, a 19-year high. They are also just two positions off their all-time peak of 85th, which they reached in 1998.
In an exclusive interview, Radulovic spoke to FIFA.com about this remarkable improvement. “It’s not by chance; it’s the result of a lengthy period of hard work,” he said. “After the Russia 2018 campaign, we completely revamped the squad, bringing in ten new players. We’ve been working our socks off during national training camps and in the run-up to friendly matches.”
— #AsianCup2019 (@afcasiancup) November 14, 2017
This change in intensity introduced by the 50-year-old coach has had the desired effect: Lebanon have not lost for 13 matches, a run stretching back almost two years to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Korea Republic on 24 March 2016.
“Our team has got better with every match and we deserve to be top of our Asian Cup qualifying group,” Radulovic stated confidently. “Since I arrived, we’ve climbed up 57 places in the World Ranking and we’ve now made it to the Asian Cup next year. I’m very happy with our performances.”
Radulovic had previously gained considerable coaching experience – and enjoyed some success – with clubs in Portugal, Uzbekistan, Kuwait, Kazakhstan and Montenegro. Having steered Lebanon to UAE 2019 with one qualifier still to play, the former midfielder is hopeful that his players will spring a few surprises at the tournament proper and continue to produce positive results and performances.
“It’s interesting that we’ve got as high as 87th place because we have very young players, although they are talented,” explained the Montenegrin. “We’re going to keep working hard so that we’re well prepared for the challenges ahead. I hope that we can compete well at the Asian Cup.”
If Radulovic’s charges continue to impress, they could soon set new benchmarks in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. “This set of players could play together for many years yet,” he said. “I think we can still make a lot of progress on the global stage, as long as we keep picking the right players and keep benefiting from the support of the national FA and the fans, of course.”