Blatter says he is going to World Cup at Putin’s invitation

This file photo shows outgoing FIFA president Sepp Blatter shake hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of the preliminary draw for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers at the Konstantin Palace in Saint Petersburg on July 25, 2015. (File photo by AFP)
Updated 20 October 2017
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Blatter says he is going to World Cup at Putin’s invitation

ZURICH: FIFA’s disgraced ex-president Sepp Blatter has told AFP he will go to next year’s World Cup in Russia at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin, despite being banned from football.
“I will go to the World Cup in Russia. I received an invitation from President Putin,” the 81-year-old said in an interview.
A Kremlin spokesman said Russia will “be happy to see (Blatter) in Moscow.”
“You know that Putin and Blatter have for a long time been, you could say, friends,” Dmitri Peskov told reporters.
“The World Cup is a great celebration of football and everyone who is invited will be welcome, and old friends will also be welcome,” the Kremlin spokesman further said.
Blatter told AFP that Michel Platini, the ex-UEFA president who is banned from football over corruption, had also been invited to the tournament by Putin.
But according to one of his close allies Platini “hasn’t received an invitation from Putin to go to the World Cup and doesn’t know what he will be doing next summer.”
Blatter, who led world football’s governing body for 17 years, was thrown out of the sport in 2015 at the height of a massive corruption scandal.
FIFA’s ethics committee has suspended him from all football-related activities for six years after finding him guilty of accepting an improper 2 million Swiss franc ($2.1 million, 1.8 million euros) payment from then-UEFA chief Platini.
But the ever-defiant Blatter said he had no plans to miss the World Cup, an event he has habitually attended since going to work at FIFA in the 1970s.
“I don’t know how long I will go for, whether I will be there for the opening match or the final,” he said during the interview in Zurich.
“Because I can’t work in football and I don’t have an assignment to do, maybe I will only make a short visit.”
Blatter is also the target of an investigation by Swiss prosecutors over alleged criminal mismanagement at FIFA and the infamous Platini payment.
Switzerland has ongoing probes into the 2018 World Cup, including possible bribery and corruption that may have led to Russia winning hosting rights.
“I’m sure that World Cup 2018 will be a great World Cup. Russia has to show that it can welcome the whole world. It’s a big challenge,” Blatter said.
It was not immediately clear how the FIFA ban would impact Blatter’s attendance at matches or events.
Platini, banned from football for four years, was allowed to attend Euro 2016 matches in his native France, provided he played no official role.


‘Good, but not good enough’: Juan Antonio Pizzi on Saudi Arabia’s defeat to Uruguay

Updated 20 June 2018
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‘Good, but not good enough’: Juan Antonio Pizzi on Saudi Arabia’s defeat to Uruguay

  • A Luis Suaréz goal midway through the first half gave Uruguay a 1-0 win
  • Pizzi had spoken passionately about the need for his side to demonstrate a higher level of focus and performance

ROSTOV-ON-DON: Good, but not good enough.
That was what Juan Antonio Pizzi stated as he declared himself pleased with his team’s performance in the 1-0 defeat to Uruguay on Wednesday night.
But he lamented his side’s lack of firepower as they exited the World Cup after just two matches.
Pizzi had spoken passionately about the need for his side to demonstrate a higher level of focus and performance in Rostov-on-Don after losing their opening game 5-0 to hosts Russia in Moscow last week.
The Argentine got his wish with a display that saw the Green Falcons fight throughout and edge possession against a Uruguay side ranked 14th in the world.
A Luis Suaréz goal midway through the first half after poor goalkeeping from Mohammed Al-Owais, however, was enough to hand the Green Falcons a 12th successive World Cup defeat.
The result means that even with a win against Egypt on Monday, the Green Falcons are no longer capable of progressing to the knock-out stages from Group A.
“We had a lot of ball possession and were able to impose our style of play and distribution,” said Pizzi. “We conceded a goal from a random play and didn’t have the weapons or tools to try to equalize. We kept the ball well and weren’t really troubled defensively, but lacked that ability to score.”
Indeed, for all their possession, Saudi Arabia have managed just three shots on target in 180 minutes of football. Against Russia, they failed to muster a single effort on target and the managed just three against Uruguay, two of which came in the final minutes when they knew they had to score or face elimination. None of the three shots came from a striker.
“This is our weakness. We have good ball possession, but no effectiveness. We lack the depth and skill required to win these games,” Pizzi added. “We have that deficiency and have looked for solutions, but we haven’t quite come up with one yet. But that is one of the reasons great forward are in high demand and are the elite players in world football.”
Pizzi had made four changes ahead of the match, dropping goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf in favor of Al-Owais and introducing Ali Al-Bulayhi at the heart of the defense alongside Osama Hawsawi. Further upfield, Hattan Bahberi came in for Yahya Al-Shehri and Fahad Al-Muwallad replaced Mohammed Al-Sahlawi. The changes, particularly the inclusion of Bahberi, seemed to give the side more impetus in midfield.
“The difference between the performance in the first game and this game is enormous,” Pizzi said. “The only way to compete at this level is to play at the level we did here. And even then it was not enough even to get a draw. Undoubtedly there were other factors aside from the pressure of playing in the opening game that made a difference, but it’s true that the difference was enormous.”
Many critics had predicted a deluge of goals from the likes of Suarez and Cavani, yet both were kept at bay. Save for a couple of half-chances early on, neither came close to scoring until the 23rd minute.
A corner from Carlos Sanchez sailed into the area and when Al-Owais came for it but failed to connect with his punch, Barcelona forward Suaréz was left with the simplest of tap-ins. He was so caught off-guard, he actually looked surprised as he reeled away in celebration.
“I believe you cannot be relaxed in any match,” Suarez said when asked by a Uruguayan journalist whether he had taken it easy against the Saudis.
“We wanted to win and to progress to the knock-out stage and this game simply showed how difficult it is. That’s the World Cup for you though and we are obviously delighted with how we have performed so far to progress.”
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez did not share his striker’s sentiments.
“Saudi Arabia wanted to excel and give a better account of themselves after losing to Russia,” he said.
“They did that very well and we have to respect them. But what surprised me the most is how we played. We underperformed.”