Qualified Team Focus - Lebanon: Cedars look to Arakji and Khayat for success
MIES (Switzerland) - The draw for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 presented by Wanda, will be held in Manila, Philippines, on April 29. It is now time to meet the 32 teams that try to become World Champions in a few months.
Here is the number 43 team in the FIBA World Ranking Men, presented by Nike, four-time FIBA Asia Cup finalists Lebanon.
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How did they qualify
Lebanon went into the Asian Qualifiers with the motivation of having just missed out on qualification for China 2019, losing the final game to Korea.
Head coach Jad El Hajj's team managed a seven-game winning streak in the 2023 qualifying campaign and locked up their World Cup return with two windows to spare as the first Asian team to qualify. That meant the Cedars were heading back to the world stage for the first time since 2010.
Lebanon hosted their November 2021 games in Group C and they rolled to two easy wins over Indonesia. Sergio El Darwich scored 17 points, Wael Arakji had a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds and teenage sensation Yousef Khayat put up 12 points in his national team debut and had the home fans chanting his name during a 96-38 victory.
Arakji poured in 19 points and Ater Majok added 18 points and 11 rebounds in a 110-64 win over Indonesia.
The February 2022 window started with a 74-63 road loss to Jordan despite the Cedars coming back from a double-digit deficit. Lebanon followed that with their first away win as Ali Haidar scored 23 points and El Darwich had 16 points in an 81-68 victory in Saudi Arabia.
Lebanon continued that momentum back at home in the July 2022 window with two victories. Amir Saoud tallied 24 points and Arakji added 23 points as Lebanon used a 31-7 second quarter to beat Jordan 89-70.
The home fans saw another win days later with Jonathan Arledge putting together 19 points and 8 rebounds in a 90-60 win over Saudi Arabia to sail into the Second Round.
Before that though, the Cedars would shine in a historic FIBA Asia Cup 2022 later in July. Lebanon notched their first ever win over New Zealand in the group stage and had never beaten China in the Asia Cup but downed them in the Quarter-Finals.
The Cedars' roll continued with an 86-85 win over Jordan in the Semi-Finals but they could not beat Australia in the Final, losing 75-73.
Arakji was named the Asia Cup MVP, and he continued that great play in the August 2022 window as he torched Philippines for 24 points in an 85-81 victory to start Group E play in front of 7,477 fans at the Nouhad Nawfal Stadium in Beirut.
Lebanon did not let up playing in India and Arledge scored 21 points and Arakji chipped in 17 points in a 95-63 win as the Cedars locked up a spot at the 2023 World Cup.
Lebanon grabbed some more positive news in the November 2022 window with a 77-65 victory over New Zealand thanks to 21 points from Haidar. The veteran big man completed his outstanding window with 27 points and 8 rebounds in a 103-74 home win over India for their seventh straight victory.
The final window saw two offensive fireworks on the road. Lebanon lost to Philippines 107-96 in the first game with Saoud scoring 27 points and Hayk Gyokchyan hitting 21 points.
In the final game of the qualifiers, Lebanon came back from 15 points down but lost 106-91 at New Zealand despite El Darwich putting in 25 points.
Best result at the World Cup
Lebanon will be returning to the World Cup for their fourth appearance and the first time since 2010, which was the third straight participation in FIBA's flagship competition. Lebanon finished 16th of 16 teams in 2002 and then took 17th place of 24 nations in 2006 and were 20th of 24 countries in 2010.
Last World Cup appearances
Lebanon lost all five games in 2002 and then defeated Venezuela in the opening game of 2006 for their first World Cup win. The Cedars lost to Argentina and Serbia and Montenegro before shocking France 74-73. Lebanon would then fall to Nigeria and finish fifth to miss out on the Round of 16. They finished 17th as there was no distinction of the four fifth-placed finishers.
In 2010, Lebanon opened with an 81-71 victory over Canada but then suffered losses to France, New Zealand, Spain and Lithuania and finished 20th overall.
Lebanon celebrate after beating Venezuela in 2006
Players to watch
Lebanon's major leader is Wael Arakji, who shined throughout the Asian Qualifiers and will be excited to finally play on the global stage. But he has plenty of help too.
The present (Wael Arakji) and future (Yousef Khayat) of Lebanon basketball
Sergio El Darwich will be in prime age at 27 for the World Cup. Coach Jad El Hajj also has veterans like Amir Saoud, Hayk Gyokchyan and Ali Haidar, and there are emerging players such as Karim Zeinoun, Ali Mansour, Jad Khalil and Ali Mezher.
The team also boosts a strong group of youngsters, topped by 20-year-old Yousef Khayat and 22-year-old Marc Khoueiry.
Qualified Team Focus series
Please check the teams we have already broken down. In the past weeks, before the last qualifications that happened in February 2023, we have ordered them by their position in the FIBA World Ranking Men, presented by Nike:
Spain, Australia, France, Slovenia, Lithuania, Greece, Italy, Germany, Canada, Finland, New Zealand, USA, Serbia, Brazil, Venezuela, Montenegro, Puerto Rico, Iran, Dominican Republic, China, Latvia, Mexico, Georgia, Jordan, Japan, the Philippines, Angola and Cote d'Ivoire.