Saudi football fans shrug off Russian hooligan fears for 2018 World Cup

File photo shows ecstatic Saudi football fans during the Asian World Cup qualifying match between Japan and Saudi Arabia on Sept. 5. (Reuters)
Updated 20 September 2017
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Saudi football fans shrug off Russian hooligan fears for 2018 World Cup

LONDON: Saudi Arabian football fans are ready to brave supporting the Green Falcons at next year’s World Cup in Russia, despite widespread fears about hooliganism.
This summer the Russian tourist board opened a World Cup information center in London which the British media reported was to help ease England fans’ fears about hooligans at the 2018 World Cup.
The Russia tourist board denied that this was the reason behind the opening.
Last year’s European Championships, for many, set a worrying precedent.
Russia fans clashed repeatedly with England supporters when the two teams met in the group-stage match in Marseilles. The clashes, which took place both inside and outside the stadium, were blamed on a group of 150 hardcore trained hooligans from Russian gangs who traveled to France just to cause trouble.
“I and other fans have heard a few stories about Russian fans, stories saying they are violent and aggressive,” said Saudi football fan Faisal Ali. “I haven’t come across any Russian fans but we have heard stories about them fighting and taking on other fans. Hopefully it won’t put fans off traveling to support the country but it is the current climate of the world everyone seems weary of everyone else at the moment, it’s just how it is.”
It was the worst violence at an international tournament since the 1998 World Cup, also in France. The worried mood was not helped when Russian MP Igor Lebedev told the thugs after their battle in Marseilles: “Well done lads. Keep it up!”
The deadly display in France is set against a no less worrying backdrop of violence at Russian domestic matches. Neo-Nazi groups regularly turn up to games, the result being that their displays of hate and racism are as much a feature of the 90 minutes as goals and tackles.
That, however, has not put off Saudi Arabia fans keen to cheer on the team’s first appearance at a World Cup for 12 years. While the fans Arab News spoke to were well aware of threat of violence, they claimed they would not miss the opportunity to support their team in Russia.
Abdullah Al-Hudaithi said it was not the first time a World Cup had been scheduled to take place in a country where security fears sometimes dominated discussion.
“We know about Russia fans, we watched the European Championships and saw what happened,” Al-Hudaithi said.
“They have organized groups and we saw the violence and the unprovoked attacks, Russian fans have a bad reputation.
“But the World Cup has taken place in countries that many don’t think are safe before. In South Africa and Brazil there was worry about the threat of robberies.”
Added to that is the hope, and expectation, that Russian authorities will ensure there will be no major trouble while the eyes of the world are focused on the country.
“I expect there will be trouble between England and Russia fans, but not with us,” Al-Hudaithi said.
“We don’t have any Ultras, groups like that, we are well behaved so that’s why I don’t expect any trouble.
“Russian hooligans can be brutal, but inside their own country I expect the authorities to be organized and stop any trouble.”
Indeed, such is the expectation that trouble will not tarnish Saudi fans’ World Cup, the biggest worry ahead of the tournament is the more prosaic problem of getting visas and arranging travel.
“I have a few questions about getting a visa, we cannot get a tourist visa here in Saudi Arabia. That is my biggest worry,” Abdullah Al-Jassim said.
“I and many friends are planning to go to the 2018 World Cup but certainly there must be facilities by the Russian government on visas, safety and facilities.”
This summer the Confederations Cup, the traditional dry run for the World Cup, took place in Russia and passed off without incident.
That according to Alexey Cherepanov, director of Visit Russia UK, is what all fans can expect next summer.
“The news in the UK has presented (the Russian World Cup and opening of our office in London) in very negative terms, in real life it is not as the press has presented it, they have sensationalized it all,” he told Arab News.
“People in Russia welcome football fans and foreigners, we love and respect all people.
“This center in London is unique, it’s a pilot project if it goes well then other Visit Russia offices can open a World Cup office as well.
“In the Middle East we have Visit Russia offices in Dubai, Iran and Kuwait. Fans from KSA can call us and we’d try to help as much as possible.”


Juan Antonio Pizzi is still the right man to lead Saudi Arabia, says former Green Falcons boss

Updated 43 min 28 sec ago
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Juan Antonio Pizzi is still the right man to lead Saudi Arabia, says former Green Falcons boss

  • Saudi Arabia's 1996 Asian Cup-winning coach Nelo Vingada backs Pizzi to lead side into next year's Asian Cup.
  • Green Falcons face Egypt on Monday with both looking to land their first point in Russia.

MOSCOW: Saudi Arabia’s 1996 Asian Cup-winning boss Nelo Vingada has called on the country’s football authorities to keep faith with head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi despite a disappointing showing in Russia.
The Green Falcons still have to face Egypt in the final match of Group A, but have already been eliminated following a 5-0 defeat at the hands of Russia in the opening game on June 14 in Moscow and a 1-0 loss to Uruguay five days later in Rostov.
 “I was expecting a little more from Saudi Arabia to be honest,” Vingada told Arab News.
“In the first game they were disappointing but a first game of the World Cup is always hard and especially when it is the first game and everyone is watching. Plenty of teams at the World Cup did not play well in the first game.
“But playing Russia in Russia and to lose is what you would normally expect from Saudi Arabia and while it was far from positive, people should not get carried away.
“The game with Uruguay was much improved in terms of organization and defense and it showed more of the character of the Saudi Arabia team.”
In the past, coaches have been axed following disappointing World Cup campaigns but with the 2019 Asian Cup just seven months away, the Portuguese tactician would prefer to see some stability rather than yet another new man in the dugout.
 “The Asian Cup is in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia will be one of the contenders,” Vingada said. “It is better to stay with the same coach. He has a vision of how he wants the team to play and he now knows the players and the players know him.”
Constant changing has not helped Saudi Arabia in the past and Pizzi himself has been in the job just seven months.
“The problem is not the coach. He should not be changed, that has happened before but results did not improve, but the mentality has to change.”
Despite that Vingada, who has coached 
Egyptian club giants Zamalek and the country’s Under-23 team, believes that the Pharaohs, also eliminated, will prevail when the two regional rivals meet on Monday in Volgograd.
 “This is an important game for pride, the players and the countries. It is still the World Cup. Egypt have a little more quality I think and have Mohamed Salah too.” 
The Liverpool striker has been recovering from a shoulder injury sustained in the Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid in late May and missed the opening game 1-0 loss to Uruguay. He played in the second game, a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Russia, scoring from the spot late in the match to earn a consolation.
“Any coach would take Salah because he can win you games but overall Egypt have been a little disappointing and a little unlucky.”
The bad luck came when conceding a last-minute goal to Uruguay and a fluke own goal to get Russia off the mark. “Uruguay are a tough team and it is no shame to lose 3-1 to a Russia team at home who are playing to qualify for the next round. It showed that European and South American teams still have a little more quality.”
 “Egypt just made some mistakes at the wrong time but this is football and without mistakes there are no goals.”
Ahead of the clash against Egypt Pizzi confirmed his intention to stay as Saudi Arabia boss, looking to build on the seven months he has had to imprint his ideas on the team ahead of the Asian Cup.