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.


Virgil van Dijk sets sights on an awesome foursome of trophies for Liverpool

Updated 20 September 2018
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Virgil van Dijk sets sights on an awesome foursome of trophies for Liverpool

LIVERPOOL: Virgil van Dijk wants to create history with Liverpool this season as he set his sights on an unprecedented quadruple of trophies.
The Anfield outfit are full of confidence after recording six successive wins at the start of a season for the first time since 1961.
Having reached the Champions League final in the previous campaign, they opened up this one with a thrilling 3-2 victory over Paris Saint-Germain thanks to an injury-time strike from Roberto Firmino after the French champions had pulled back a two-goal deficit.
While pundits have suggested Liverpool should prioritize the Premier League, van Dijk said they have the belief to do even better.
“Everyone is excited, feeling good, wanted to be part of this,” he said. “We know the season is very long, four competitions to play and we want to win everything. That’s basically our mindset. You need to have ambitions.
“With the size of this club, the people around here and with the history, we want to try to win everything. It’s going to be hard, we know it’s something very difficult to do, but we are going to try. That’s what we are here for.
“I’ve enjoyed every bit since I arrived here and hope to keep going. I want to win things, create memories here and write history as well with all of these boys.”
The Dutch defender also feels rivals will see Liverpool as contenders for the big prizes having overcome Neymar and Co.
“We were not in the [Champions League] final last season for no reason,” he added. “I think we should have already got the respect, but this season is new.
“Everyone starts over and we need to show it in every game. We need to keep going, keep improving, but also enjoy it. It’s the highest stage.
“If you are going to be on the pitch and you don’t believe it [that you can beat teams like this] then you need to stay home. You need to believe in your team. I have the belief. I’m enjoying it. You want to play in these games, you want to play these clubs. I think it’s a great time to be a Liverpool player.
“If you look at the team, the whole squad, players who are not even in there and have so much potential, so much quality, it says a lot about our team.”