Saudi Arabia kick off Euro tour with Latvia win

The Saudi Arabia team are in confident mood ahead of Friday’s date with Portugal. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Updated 09 November 2017
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Saudi Arabia kick off Euro tour with Latvia win

DUBAI: Goals from Ali Al-Zaqaan and Mukhtar Fallatah gave Saudi Arabia a 2-0 victory over Latvia on Tuesday. Here are five things we learned from the Green Falcons’ performance as they prepare to face Portugal on Friday.

Bauza not afraid to experiment

Coach Edgardo Bauza handed unofficial debuts to four players against Latvia: Al-Qadisiya defender Mohamed Khabrani completed the 90 minutes, contributing to a clean sheet; Al-Fateh winger Ali Al-Zaqaan marked his debut with a goal; club teammate Nouh Al-Moosa produced a combative performance in midfield in his 75 minutes on the pitch before making way for another debutant, Abdulmajeed Al-Sulaihem. In his three games in charge so far, the Argentine coach has fielded eight new players and seems determined to find the missing pieces to improve on the squad that took Saudi Arabia all the way to the World Cup.

Fallatah has a place in squad, but needs playing time

The inclusion of Al-Hilal striker Mukhtar Fallatah in the Saudi squad raised many eyebrows, as the 30-year-old has not played a single minute in the league since his summer transfer from Al-Wehda. But Fallatah was drafted into the starting XI to lead the line against Latvia, and he looked lively throughout. In the first 20 minutes, the striker’s rustiness was evident, but as he grew into the game, Fallatah showed he is still the player who scored 16 league goals last season. His movement to beat the Latvian offside trap in the build-up to his 45th-minute goal was exemplary and his lobbed finish to beat the goalkeeper was the touch of a top-class striker. Fallatah showed he deserves a place in the squad, but his slow start to the game also indicated that he needs to get more playing time at the club if he is to challenge for a starting spot upfront.

Contrasting fortunes for the full-backs

Bauza took six full-backs to Portugal, and against Latvia he started the two who are widely considered least likely to start in Russia, and both completed all 90 minutes. Hassan Muath captained the side from the right side of defense, while Abdulrahman Al-Obaid started on the left. Their fortunes were starkly different. The 31-year-old Al-Faiha right-back looked shaky in possession, especially in the attacking third where his crossing left a lot to be desired. Muath was repeatedly bullied by the physically superior Latvians. Al-Qadisiya’s 25-year-old Al-Obaid, on the other hand, bombed up and down the left-flank. His contributions in attack helped bring the best out of debutant Ali Al-Zaqaan on the wing, while his last-ditch clearance that prevented the concession of a late goal demonstrated his positional awareness and defensive commitment. Muath did not help his chances of challenging Mohamed Al-Burayk and Yasir Al-Shahrani on the right, but Al-Obaid made a strong case for his inclusion on the plane to Moscow come June 2018.

Bauza can be tactically flexible

In his third game in charge of the Green Falcons, Bauza has shown he is not as tactically rigid as his stints with Argentina and UAE suggested. The Argentine toyed with variations of 4-4-2 and 4-5-1. His latest experiment saw him employ a 4-2-3-1 formation which looked overall solid against Latvia. Whereas Bert van Marwijk had religiously stuck to the Dutch 4-3-3, his successor seems more willing to explore his options as he attempts to get the best out of his players.

Squad selection highlights demise of Al-Ittihad

The injury to Fahad Al-Muallad leaves Bauza’s squad without a single player from Al-Ittihad. The Jeddah-based giants are one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest teams and have historically supplied the backbone of the national team alongside Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr and Al-Ahli. But years of instability at the club have left the Tigers miles off their past glory days. The fact that the national coach could not find a single Al-Ittihad player worthy of inclusion in a 30-man squad speaks volumes about the state of affairs at this historic club, who have won the Saudi Premier League eight times.


Virat Kohli savors first India win over Australia Down Under for a decade

Updated 10 December 2018
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Virat Kohli savors first India win over Australia Down Under for a decade

  • India's last triumph on Australian soil at the WACA in Perth in 2008
  • Kohli confident win sets tourists up for a series win.

ADELAIDE: Virat Kohli said it was “very special” to captain India to their first Test win in Australia for a decade and gave his side crucial momentum in their bid for a maiden series victory.
The visitors won a tightly-contested opening Test in Adelaide by 31 runs on the fifth day after setting Australia a target of 323, which would have been a record run chase at the ground.
It was a big breakthrough for Kohli’s men, with their last triumph on Australian soil at the WACA Ground in Perth in 2008. In Adelaide, their sole previous win was in 2003.
“Obviously it’s a great feeling. We’ve never taken a lead in a series in Australia, something that for us is a huge boost,” he said.
“And it’s given us the right momentum that we needed to play a big series like this and it’s something that we’ve had to work hard for.
“Any Test victory is special because you work hard over five days, and then the physical and the mental toil and the emotion of it all comes together in a result is a very special feeling.”
Kohli, who has long led India’s batting charge with admirable consistency across all three formats but failed to fire in Adelaide, said he believed his team collectively were better than Australia and deserved to win.
The victory was built on Cheteshwar Pujara’s first innings 123 and his second innings 71, while wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant took a world record-equalling 11 catches.
“It was priceless from Pujara, we were down and out at lunch on day one. His grit and determination brought us back in it,” said Kohli.
“We always knew that runs on the board would make the home side tentative. Any lead was gold and we got 15. In the second innings again, he and Rahane batted well.”
Asked if thought 323 would be enough to win, Kohli said his middle and lower order could have done better after a five for 25 collapse at the end of the second innings.
“We could have added another 30-35 runs more which could have taken the game totally beyond Australia,” he said.
“So these are things that we have to think about going to Perth, but if someone had told me before the series that I would be 1-0 up as soon we started the series, I would have taken it with both hands.”
The second Test starts on Friday in Perth, with Melbourne and Sydney to follow.