A late penalty goal ensured Lebanon lifted the Mediterranean Cup for the fifth time in a tough encounter with Italy in Beirut – but not without last play drama.
The Cedars led 6-4 when Italian centre Mirco Bergamasco touched town in the corner on the end of the what they thought was the final move. But, in the confusion, it emerged that the hooter had already sounded and the hosts retained the trophy they had narrowly won in Sicily last year.
Jeffery Tohme opened the scoring for Lebanon, with debutant full-back Fabio Borino replying before the break. Wael Harb’s second half goal proving to be decisive.
Both sides are preparing for the World Cup in October and consisted exclusively of domestic quota players, some of whom will be part of their respective squads for the tournament in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
Lebanon performance director Tarik Houchar said: “”There were far too many mistakes from both teams. Our error account went up in the second period and we needed to make more tackles than the Italians, but our boys worked hard and stood up when it counted.
“We came into this game with a really young squad and these players walked away with their heads held high.”
Houchar, who has now led the Cedars to four victories in a row, singled out front rower Toufic El Hajj, whose 70-minute stint earned him the Man of the Match award, as Lebanon ended an attritional game with just two players on the bench due to injuries to Ray Sabat and Mike Tawk.
Lebanon captain Robin Hachache added: “It was a tough, physical game – we didn’t play our best rugby and our completion rate was horrendous which made the task even harder.
“But we held our line, defended well and were able to grind out the win. It is a credit to the Italians for always being such a tough opposition.”
Italy coach Kelly Rolleston admitted the match was always going to be difficult for his side due to it being played before the start of their domestic competition.
“I was very pleased with the attitude and work put in by the boys,” he said. “We worked hard on our defensive organisation during the three days we had before the match and our defensive efforts were excellent for 80 minutes, we were able to hold a very good Lebanon side to just one try.
“In attack we didn’t get enough quick ball to put them under constant pressure but we still went close to scoring on a couple of occasions and this is a real positive for us moving forward.
“A number of players put their hands up for the next game and higher honours further down the line. Captain Gioele Celerino showed his experience and class and we had four players on debut and they all showed up well.”
Lebanon – R. Sabat, A. Bowles, K. el Rafii, J. Tohme, J. Moorkar, W. Harb, I. Chidiac, T. El Hage, G. Hammoudieh, Z. Agha, K. Bejjani, A. Abou Arabi, R. Hachache.
Subs: M. Tawk, R. Farjallah, J.M. Rizkalla, E. Bou Lattouf.
Try: Jeffery Tohme.
Goals: Wael Harb 1/2.
Italy – F. Borina, A. Rigo, E. Passera, M. Bergamasco, E. Pezzano, J. Giorgis, I. Gimmario, G. Pagani, S. Bosoco, T. Nicoli, A. Hliwa, M. Sands, G. Celerino.
Subs: F. Ciavrro, S. Stanissa, F. Di Trapani, I. Bayoui.
Try: Fabio Borina.
Goals: Mirco Bergamasco 0/1.
Half time: 4-4.
Referee: Mikhael Shammas.