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TOKUSHIMA (FIBA Asia Championship) - Lebanon showed character to overcome the loss of a mainstay at the crucial stage of the game to score a psychologically important 90-68 win against West Asian rivals Qatar in Group E of the Quarterfinal round on Tuesday.
Leading by a none too 'winnable' 64:53 lead, with 01:54 left on the clock, Lebanon mainstay Joe Vogel had to be carried off the court, having suffered a bloody injury in a freak incident. Eyebrows knotted among the Lebanese supporters, for the tall center, in combination with Fadi El-Khatib had played a pivotal role - literally in the basketball sense - in taking his side to the forefront in the encounter.
But El-Khatib came up with his best showing of the championship thus far, to cover up for his prolific colleague's and finished with a game-high of 38 points and nine rebounds.
"We were in a wonderful rhythm when Joe got injured. That's when I thought I have to raise my game," El-Khatib said.
"Of course losing Vogel at that juncture was a concerning factor," said Lebanon coach Dragan Raca. "But Fadi made up for his absence."
"I must say things rather went our way than not," Raca said. "We know beating a team like Qatar is a big boost to our morale. I'm really satisfied with the way our plans worked," the Serbian added.
"I really couldn't understand what went wrong with them," Raca said.
"We would have fixed the problem if we knew what it was," said Qatar coach Edward Andrist. "I think once we went down, we lost focus."
"I accept it was the failure of the coaching staff. But having said that, I must give full marks to them," the American said.
"Our defense was virtually absent in the first half. I thought we were in our elements only in the third quarter. But it was too little against a tough and tactically sound combination," Andrist said.
Both the coaches said there were tougher hurdles ahead.
"It doesn't matter what happened. We have to start planning for tomorrow," both of them spoke in exactly similar words.
"The true test of character of our team will come tomorrow. If we can play at our best," Andrist said.
"We need to prove we can produce these results consistently. Today we have won, but tomorrow is another day. We need to play like this again," Raca said.
Lebanon take on Chinese Taipei, while Qatar match wits with Iran on Wednesday.
Lebanon 90 (Fadi El-Khatib 38, Joseph Vogel 14) bt Qatar 68 (Yasseen Musa 19, Daoud Daoud 14). Quarterwise: 27-16, 52-30, 70-59.