When they returned to the Rafik Hariri International Airport on Wednesday evening, the young female footballers did not appear taken by surprise by the warm welcome awaiting them.
In the arrival hall, the young Lebanese players, medals around their necks, had already prepared everything: rhythmic dance steps, a unifying war cry “Ma bi fouz ella lebneniye” (Only Lebanese win).
They also brandished the much-deserved golden trophy they won in Jordan.
“It’s a great feeling. I never imagined I would feel so much,” said Sahar Dabouq, one of the two coaches of the new West Asian champions, speaking to the Lebanese Football Federation.
Among the 100 or so people gathered at the airport to receive the football team was the [federation’s] president, Hachem Haidar, who expressed his hope that the young female athletes will be “the face of tomorrow’s Lebanese football.”
By defeating the Jordanian team in the final in the Aqaba stadium on Tuesday, the Lebanese young women lifted their second West Asian title in a row; their second in three editions of this tournament created in 2018.
A perfect trajectory
After three years of suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2023 edition was composed of four teams: Jordan, the host country, Lebanon, Bahrain and Palestine.
In the first round, the Lebanese got off to a perfect start with two initial victories first against Bahrain (2-0), signed off by Cecile Iskandar (forward), and then against the Palestinians, with an impressive 5-0 score. The goals were pulled off by Yasmine Hamdar, Lea Hajj Ali, Nagham Bou Khalil and Cecile Iskandar in the first half. Yara Shabtini also scored during additional time in the second half.
Almost certain to finish at the top of the group, Dabouq’s players were content with a 1-1 draw against the Jordanian team in the third and final match of the first round.
This was the local team that would meet two days later for the grand finale. And once again, they managed to do it perfectly.
As usual, the Lebanese got off to the best possible start by opening the scoring in the 28th minute through Iskandar, who was voted top scorer of the competition with four goals.
Similar to the previous matches between the two sides, the game was equally dominated by the two teams, until the young Lebanese ended up scoring twice through Hajj Ali, thus sealing the fate of the match.
The 2-0 score remained unchanged until the final whistle, which gave rise to outpourings of joy similar to those seen the next day during the team’s triumphant return to Beirut.
‘I hope the federation will continue to support women's football’
In the midst of this collective celebration, several members of the victorious team expressed their satisfaction while sharing their wishes for this year 2023, more than ever set with promises.
“I am very happy with the efforts made by the whole team to achieve this victory. I would like to sincerely thank Coach Dareen and Coach Sahar, because they are the ones who have allowed us to get this far,” said Marcelle Skaiki, voted best goalkeeper of the tournament with only one goal entering her net.
“I worked really hard to win this title of best goalkeeper. It’s a dream come true for me. I hope there will be many more,” she added.
“We are very proud to have started the new year with this success. It’s a very good thing before the Asian qualifiers,” added Iskandar, who was also presented with her personal top scorer award.
“It’s great to see all these people celebrating us, and we dedicate this cup to them. I also hope that the federation will continue to support women’s football so that we can reach higher goals,” she added.
The next challenge for the Lebanese team will be to extend their newfound West Asian supremacy to the entire continent.
To reach the Asian Cup finals in the Philippines in April 2024, they will first have to get past the initial round of qualifying, which will be held on the island of Guam from April 22 to 30.
“Now it is our responsibility to take these girls as far as possible. It is up to us to work even harder to achieve this,” Dabouq said.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Sahar Ghoussoub.
When they returned to the Rafik Hariri International Airport on Wednesday evening, the young female footballers did not appear taken by surprise by the warm welcome awaiting them.In the arrival hall, the young Lebanese players, medals around their necks, had already prepared everything: rhythmic dance steps, a unifying war cry “Ma bi fouz ella lebneniye” (Only Lebanese win).They also...