It is often said that first impressions count, and this is particularly true in the world of football, where players must seize any opportunities they get to demonstrate their talents to coaching staff, fans and members of the media. In the event of failure, second chances are rare. After having received a red card on his international debut against Syria, Joan Oumari would have been forgiven for thinking that his chances of being asked to pull on the Lebanese national jersey again were slim.
Fortunately, his sending-off, which occurred in the last minute of the friendly match, held on 6 September 2013, did not prevent Lebanon from winning 2-0.
The imposing centre-back, who plays with 2. Bundesliga side FSV Frankfurt, still has a clear memory of the incident. “I wasn’t included in the starting line-up, but I was brought on in the 55th minute. In the last few seconds, I jumped to head a high ball and my hand hit the face of a Syrian player. The referee gave a straight red card,” he told FIFA.com.
“It wasn’t intentional and I was very disappointed to be sent off in my first match for my country. But these things happen in football. You can be the best player on the pitch one day, and the worst the next day. As it was my debut for the national team, it was a tough decision to accept.”
Three days later, the Lebanese squad travelled to Doha to play a friendly with Qatar. Oumari, meanwhile, who was suspended for the match, headed back to Germany, persuaded that he would never be called up again.
“Things weren’t going so well with the coach, and I remember saying that I didn’t expect to be asked back,” said the 27-year-old. “I returned to Germany, but I wasn’t too down because I felt like I’d just been the victim of some bad luck. I was convinced that I’d not get another chance at international level. As it was my first year at FSV, I decided to focus on club football to become a first team regular.”
I was very happy to be called up again, because I finally had a chance to do myself justice.
And that was precisely what he did, establishing himself in the team and playing in 28 second division matches. That figure would have been even higher had he not received a red card against Dynamo Dresden.
“I still remember that one well, because the red card made me cry, despite our 3-2 victory,” he said. “I got the red just ten minutes after kick-off. On top of that, my mother and sister had travelled 500km from Berlin to see me play. I went straight back to the changing room, sat down and burst into tears, because I felt like I’d disappointed them.”
*Following the arrival of Miodrag Radulovic at the helm of the Lebanese national XI in May 2015, Oumari was brought back into the fold. Since then, he has managed to win over the Montenegrin coach, playing a full 90 minutes in both of the Asian country’s first two qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
“I was very happy to be called up again, because I finally had a chance to do myself justice. In my second international match against Jordan, I was pretty apprehensive as I had a slight injury to my left foot. But I told myself that if I didn’t impress this time around, I’d never be given another chance.
“I was a bit fearful of challenging for the ball in case I got a red card right in front of the new coach, who was very welcoming and had boosted my confidence. That’s why I really didn’t want to disappoint him.”
Another major test awaits for Oumari and Radulovic on Tuesday, when Lebanon face Korea Republic in the third match of the Asian qualifying campaign for Russia 2018. The encounter against the current joint-leaders of Group G, who crushed Laos 8-0 on Thursday, already has a decisive look about it.
Despite that resounding scoreline, Oumari is confident about his own nation’s prospects. “The Koreans have a good team but they’re not unbeatable. We created a lot of chances in our second match against Laos, but we were only able to finish off two of them,” he said.
“Korea are very clinical so we’ll have to try to prevent them from getting into dangerous areas. From their point of view, they know that we have players who are quick and who can cause them damage on the counter-attack. Even if we don’t get the three points, I’m sure that we’ll put in a good performance,” he continued.
The Berlin-born defender concludes the interview on a light note. “I’m going to do everything I can to avoid getting another red card, but if it does happen, I hope we can win the match like my club did!”
Whatever transpires on Tuesday in Sidon, Oumari has already proven that the second chance he was given to play in the heart of the Lebanese defence was well deserved.