The squads have been announced for Saturday’s Mediterranean Cup clash between Lebanon and Italy in Beirut.
The Cedars defeated the visitors 26-22 in the corresponding fixture in Sicily last year, and the Azzurri will be looking to cause an upset at the Universite Libanais stadium. Both squads are comprised of only domestic-based players, with Italy’s 17 featuring five debutants and Lebanon’s 20-strong squad including nine.
Italy team manager Salvatore Pezzano said: “We are very enthusiastic approaching the match based on the good work undertaken in Italy recently. The quality of the players is getting better because we can work with more numbers and with a proper technical structure, which shows Italian rugby league is improving. It is always a pleasure going to Lebanon because we have created a good link with their federation and we just hope our men’s national side can repeat the success of our female team.”
Impressive fullback Fabrizio Ciaurro returns to his line up for the first time in four years, while North West Roosters duo Gioele Celerino and Mirco Bergamasco bring World Cup qualifying experience. Nine of the Italian squad and eight from Lebanon played in the 2016 Mediterranean Cup.
Lebanon interim head coach Tarek Houchar, who has been in the country for a week preparing the team, trimmed the squad on Tuesday, the same day Italy touched down.
“The coaching staff is happy with the week’s preparation,” said Houchar. “The players are improving 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, it's just great to see most of these kids come through our system and get a chance to represent their country.”
Five of the squad have graduated through Lebanon’s representative youth pathway, with two, Imad Chidiac and Joey Aslan, having represented all three junior national teams; the Junior Cedars (U16), Lebanon Youth (U18-9) and Liban Espoir (U20-1) whilst Lycans back rower Khaled Rafii is 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 come October.”
This will be the fifth meeting between the two nations, with Lebanon having won three and Italy one.
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)