Lebanon captain Roda Antar has retired from international football citing exhaustion and a desire to make way for the next generation as the reasons behind his decision.
Antar, 32, has earned over 40 caps for his country since making his debut as an 18-year-old at the 1998 Arab Nations Cup. The attacking midfielder is undoubtedly one of Lebanon’s greatest ever players, but having played an instrumental role in the progression of the national team in recent years, Antar has decided to call it a day.
“This is a long over kept decision, but I think that now is the time,”Antar said in a statement. “I have been playing for the national team for the past 14 years and within these years I hold some of my best memories within my career.
“But in everyone’s lives there reaches a point where something has to come to an end. Therefore I will like to announce my retirement from the National Team.”
Antar added: “Honestly, I am exhausted. Constant long distance traveling has made me physically tired and I also need to spend more time with my son. Now is also the ideal time for young players to be given the chance to prove themselves in the National Team.”
Antar had previously spent a stint in international retirement in 2010 before returning to the setup at the behest of current coach Theo Bucker, under whom he played during the German’s first stint in charge in 2000.
Having spent the majority of his career in Germany, Antar is one of just two Lebanese players to experience a European career.
The Sierra Leone-born midfielder left Lebanese club Tadamon Sour for a two-year loan spell at Hamburger SV, but having failed to establish his place, moved to Freiburg in 2003.
Antar spent four years at Freiburg before enjoying a two-year spell at FC Koln. Antar is currently in the Chinese Super League with Shandong Luneng and is proving to be a big success.
Antar’s retirement is the latest blow to the Lebanon national team following the match-fixing scandal that has engulfed the setup in recent months. Coach Bucker is also considering his own future after the scandal left him “heart-broken.”
Ninety-seven places may separate Spain and the UAE in the FIFA World Rankings, but when it comes to form the current European and World champions are the Emirates’ only rivals.
A 2-1 win over Uzbekistan on Friday night stretched the UAE’s unbeaten run to 13 games and cemented their place at the top of Group E in Asian Cup qualifying.
Only world No1 ranked Spain can boast a better record than Mahdi Ali’s men with La Roja in the midst of an 18 game unbeaten sequence stretching back to their 1-0 friendly defeat to England in November 2011.
Like Spain, the UAE’s last defeat was also a 1-0 reverse coming against Asain champions Japan last September in Mahdi’s first game in charge.
Since then they have gone on to win the Gulf Cup for only the second time in their history with victory over Iraq in the final, while Friday’s win over Uzbekistan was their 11th win in a row.
UAE have scored 32 goals in their unbeaten run with just 11 conceded, although they have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last three games – all 2-1 wins over Uzbekistan Vietnam and Iraq.
UAE are joined in the top three of the form table by another two surprise packages – Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro.
The Baltic duo improve their recent records to eight unbeaten matches after wins over Greece and Moldova respectively in World Cup qualifying on Friday.
European big guns Germany, Netherlands and Russia are seven unbeaten alongside Switzerland, Panama, Mexico and New Zealand while Argentina and Croatian round out the top five having not tasted defeat in six games.
UAE’s UNBEATEN RUN
UAE 3-0 Kuwait (Friendly)
UAE 2-2 Uzbekistan (Friendly)
UAE 6-2 Bahrain (Friendly)
UAE 2-1 Estonia (Friendly)
UAE 2-0 Yemen (Friendly)
UAE 3-1 Yemen (Friendly)
Qatar 1-3 UAE (Gulf Cup)
Bahrain 1-2 UAE (Gulf Cup)
UAE 2-0 Oman (Gulf Cup)
UAE 1-0 Kuwait (Gulf Cup)
UAE 2-1 (AET) Iraq (Gulf Cup)
Vietnam 1-2 UAE (Asian Cup Qual.)
UAE 2-1 Uzbekistan (Asian Cup Qual.)
Al Jazira coach Luis Milla believes the club’s returning UAE stars can spur his side onto the first win of his reign.
Ali Mabkhout, Khamis Esmail and Ali Khaseif all played 90 minutes as Mahdi Ali’s side recorded an impressive 2-1 Asian Cup qualifying win over Group E rivals Uzbekistan on Friday night.
Khamis was at fault for the Uzbeks’ opening goal, but all three were integral as the UAE came back to win with Mabkhout notching the winner and Khaseif pulling off a stunning double-save late on.
Milla is now hopeful they can take that momentum into tomorrow night’s Etisalat Cup semi-final against neighbours Al Wahda.
“We will try to play with the best team, with players that can compete,” the Spaniard said. “The national team players will be with us. We have three players, Khamis, Mabkhout and Khaseif, who played a good game (against Uzbekistan), and with this win we also hope the confidence is getting better. We are sure that they are going to help us.”
Matchwinner Mabkhout has not seen much playing time at club level since returning from the Gulf Cup of Nations, and Milla suggested he needs to replicate his UAE performance in training to change that.
Milla added: “We are happy with how the players played but also with how they train. Mabkhout played a good game and (scored) a good goal, but that’s what we want him to do in training also.”
Meanwhile, Wahda assistant coach Andrej Panadic says Jazira will be rewarded in the long run if they give the former Spain under-21 coach time to adapt.
The former Dinamo Zagreb and Hamburg defender on media duties in place of coach Branko Ivankovic, who is in Croatia following the death of his mother-in-law.
Ivankovic is expected back in Abu Dhabi today and will be in the dug-out at the Al Nahyan Stadium on Monday night.
“This is a new coach, this coach has new ideas, new systems. Everything is new for him also,” Panadic said. “The style of play is totally different from what is Spanish, what is Portuguese, what is European.
“He has a good name, he was with the U21 Spanish national team. That means he knows the philosophy of football and the Spanish style. For this I think Jazira will be stronger.”