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PAN ARAB GAMES 1997

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Though a minor tournament with Kuwait sending a reserve squad and the U.A.E. sending an U-21 squad, the 8th Arab Games was a footballing success for the Lebanese national team. Held in 1997, 8 teams took part: Jordan, Oman, Libya, Lebanon, Kuwait, U.A.E., Syria, and Mauritania. Syria had reached the 1996 Asian Games, the U.A.E. Syria had reached the 1996 Asian Cup in style, overcoming Qatar in the qualifiers, and finishing equal on points with China in the final tournament. Lebanon went off to a decent start in their opening game, holding the Jordanians to a 1-1 draw. Meanwhile, Libya and Oman, the rest of the group, had fought out a 2-2 draw, giving them the goal advantage. Game two had Lebanon walk on thin ice with a 1-1 draw with Oman, a score replicated between Libya and Jordan. Going into the final game, Oman and Libya had a goal advantage, meaning if either Lebanon or Jordan were to reach the semi finals, they had to win their last games. After going down 1-0 to Libya, two late Lebanese goals brought the Africans back down to earth, beating them 2-1. In the other group game, Jordan managed to top the group by a single goal, beating Oman 3-1.

In group 2, the situation was less even. Syria won all 3 games against Mauritania, a Kuwaiti reserve side, and the U.A.E. youth team. Kuwait came second place, beating Mauritania 3-1 and the U.A.E. 1-0. The Mauritanians were to receive no consolation in the tournament, losing 2-1 to the U.A.E. youths. The semis were on the way, and hosts Lebanon were to play Syria, a team that had not dropped a point yet. Lebanon fought well, yet a last minute goal from the Syrians helped a 3-2 win. Strangely enough, the Lebanese Future station that was broadcasting the game went blank when the third Syrian goal was scored. In the other semi final, Jordan paved their way to the final, after beating Kuwait 3-2.

The third place playoff was vital for Lebanon, as hosts usually like to earn some medal. After coming so close to qualifying for the 1996 Asian Games yet being overcome by Kuwait, revenge was certainly sweet. The hosts managed to earn bronze after their 3-2 win. What was most extraordinary about the Lebanese campaign was the amount of penalties converted. Most of their goals came from penalties, and to be specific, from Abdel Fattah Chehab. He missed a penalty against Kuwait, after scoring several times in the tournament, when his shot hit the post. Yet compensation was there, as he scored right from the rebound into a defenseless Kuwaiti goal.

The final of the 1997 Pan Arab Games held in Lebanon was to be between the regional powerhouses, Jordan and Syria. Jordan scored the only goal of the game, with some fan trouble from silver medal winning Syria at the end of the match.

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