VFC’s Gabriel Bitar gets his second shot at international competition in just three months

This off-season has been anything but “off” for Vancouver FC midfielder Gabriel Bitar. The 25-year-old spent the majority of January in Qatar and now, Bitar will be heading to Australia with Lebanon’s national team for another international call up.

“I am so thrilled to be representing Lebanon for the second time this off-season,” said Bitar.

In December, Bitar earned a call up for Lebanon’s national team ahead of the country’s appearance at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup in January. The Ottawa, Ont. native ended up making two appearances with his debut in the tournament happening in front of over 80,000 screaming fans in Qatar. 

Unfortunately, Lebanon did not make it past the hard-fought group stage of the Asian Cup but the team and Bitar have a new goal in sight, qualifying for the 2026 World Cup. 

“Playing for Lebanon at the Asian Cup in January was a very proud moment for me and something that I’m very excited to have the chance to do again,” said Bitar.

That battle continues this month as Bitar joins the Lebanese squad “Down Under” to face their third and final Group I opponent, Australia, for back-to-back matches on Thursday, March 21 and Monday, March 25. The second match will count as Lebanon’s home qualifier as the original match was moved earlier this month due to instability in the Middle East.

Lebanon is currently trailing the Aussies in Group I after securing draws in their initial opening matches of the second round qualifiers against fellow Group I opponents Palestine and Bangladesh in November of 2023. Following these upcoming matches against Australia, Lebanon will play one more match against both Palestine and Bangladesh in June 2024 with only the top two teams from Group I advancing to the next qualifying round.

“We are very happy for Gabi to be included in Lebanon’s national team for the country’s World Cup qualifiers,” said VFC Head Coach Afshin Ghotbi.

These matches in Group I are part of the second of five rounds of World Cup qualification for the AFC. Eight teams from the AFC will qualify directly for FIFA World Cup 2026, with an additional team earning a spot in the inter-confederation playoff. The qualification process also serves as qualification for the 2027 AFC Asian Cup. Qualification for the expanded 48-team 2026 FIFA World Cup, which will be co-hosted by Canada, the United States and Mexico and includes 13 games to be held in Vancouver, B.C. and Toronto, Ont., would mark a first for Lebanon.

Bitar has the chance to make his fourth cap for Lebanon at these qualification matches since earning his first appearance for the senior team in December 2022. It is an experience that Bitar does not take for granted and is looking forward to stepping on the pitch for Lebanon once again, “I am very grateful for this next opportunity to play for Lebanon and I hope to help them qualify for the 2026 World Cup.”