Both squads have been announced for Saturday’s Mediterranean Cup clash between Lebanon and Italy, at the Universite Libanais in Beirut. Both are made up entirely of domestic-based players, with the 17 Azzuris featuring five debutants and the 20 Cedars including nine.
This will be the fifth meeting between the two nations, with Lebanon having won three and Italy one. Nine of this year’s Italian squad and eight from the Lebanon played in the corresponding fixture last year, in Sicily, when the Cedars defeated the Azzuri 26-22.
This year’s Azzurri side will be looking to cause an upset. “We are very enthusiastic approaching this match,” said Italy team manager, Salvatore Pezzano. “Good work has been undertaken in Italy recently. The quality of the players is improving because we can work with greater numbers and with a proper technical structure, all of which shows that Italian rugby league is improving.
“It is always a pleasure going to Lebanon because we have developed a good link with their federation; we just hope now that our men’s national side can repeat the success of our women’s team.”
Impressive Italian fullback, Fabrizio Ciaurro returns to his line up, for the first time in four years, while the North West Roosters’ duo, Gioele Celerino and Mirco Bergamasco bring World Cup qualifying experience.
Lebanon interim head coach, Tarek Houchar who has been in the country for a week preparing the team, trimmed his squad on Tuesday, the same day Italy touched down. “Our coaching staff is happy with the week’s preparation,” said Houchar.
“The players have been improving with each training session which is really pleasing to see. With so many new faces in the squad there’s a real sense of excitement at training. The average age is 23, and it’s just great to see most of these kids who have come through our system now get a chance to represent their country.”
Five of the Cedars’ squad have graduated through Lebanon’s representative youth pathway, with two, Imad Chidiac and Joey Aslan having represented all three junior national teams – [Junior Cedars (U16), Lebanon Youth (U18-9) and Liban Espoir (U20-1)], while the Lycans’ back rower, Khaled Rafii, has been called up seven years after his only previous international appearances, against Italy.
“With the World Cup looming, the coaching staff will be looking to pick a minimum of five players from this squad to be part of that campaign,” continued Houchar. “The players are aware that their performance on Saturday might see them on a flight to Australia, come October.”
Lebanon 20-man squad
Kahil Bejjani, Hecham El Yafi (Immortals RLFC), Elie Bou Latouf, Imad Chidiac, Robin Hachache, Jonas Moorkar, Jeffrey Tohme (Jounieh RLFC), Wael Harb, Khaled El Rafii, Jean Marie Rizkallah, Ray Sabat, Mike Tawk (Lycans FC), Ali Abou Arabi, Joseph Aslan, Abdallah Dahanni (Tripoli RLFC), Ziad Agha, Alfred Bowles, Robert Farjallah, Toufic El Hajj, Gianni Hammoudeh (Wolves RLFC).
Italy 17-man squad
Simone Boscolo, Matthew Sands, Fabrizio Ciaurro, Tommaso Nicoli, Alvise Rigo (North East), Edoardo Pezzano, Igor Giammario, Hliwa Achraf, Fabio Borina (Spartans Catania), Ismail Bayoui, Giuseppe Pagani (Lions Brescia), Gioele Celerino, Mirko Bergamasco, Jaume Giorgis (North West Roosters), Francesco Di Trapani (XIII Lovers Palermo), Simone Stanissa (Fogliano), Emanuele Passera (XIII del Ducato).