Saudi Arabia’s football team out to hit the heights

Saudi Arabia know they face a tough task in trying to overcome Portugal tonight. (AP)
Updated 10 November 2017
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Saudi Arabia’s football team out to hit the heights

VISEU, Portugal: Two South Americans, two Gulf nations, one similar story. But will they end the same?
Ahead of the 1990 World Cup, Carlos Alberto Parreira swapped the managerial reins at Saudi Arabia for the chance to lead the UAE. The venerated Brazilian coach inherited an Emirati squad that had already made history by qualifying for the showpiece tournament and he approached it with the mindset that his players should simply enjoy the occasion. They lost all three games, conceded 11 goals, and Parreira was promptly dismissed.
Twenty-seven years later, a similar situation is playing out once again, only this time it is the UAE that have seen their South American coach switch to their Gulf neighbors. Argentine Edgardo Bauza was with the Emirates for only four months before being selected by the Saudi Arabia Football Federation to lead the Green Falcons at next summer’s World Cup. With the team having already qualified under Bert van Marwijk, Bauza’s task is to ensure his squad is ready to compete in Russia.
Regardless of next summer being the Kingdom’s first World Cup appearance in more than a decade, for Bauza and his players, merely enjoying the occasion is not an option — as Parreira can testify. When the Brazilian returned to the Saudi helm in 1998, he became the first manager to be sacked during a World Cup after overseeing two group-stage defeats. His Argentine counterpart is thus under no illusions with regards to expectations.
Bauza was an unused substitute during the 1990 World Cup final so understands better than most the importance of a deep squad. He has brought an experimental 30-man pool to Portugal for a 12-day training camp he hopes will help decide the 23 players heading for Russia. Parreira also opted for southern Europe for a pre-tournament camp in 1990, but while the UAE lost 4-0 to Poland and 3-0 to Hungary, Bauza’s squad are already showing vastly more potential.
Against Latvia in Lisbon, first-half goals by Ali Al-Zaqan and Mukhtar Fallatah resulted in a comfortable 2-0 win on Tuesday. The squad have since traveled north to Viseu for tonight’s glamor tie against the hosts. Portugal coach Fernando Santos has rested Cristiano Ronaldo, but still boasts the likes of Andre and Bernardo Silva, as well as a Pepe and Bruma. The visitors will return to the capital to finish their camp against Bulgaria on Monday.
The Latvia match was Bauza’s third unofficial game in charge following a 5-2 win over Jamaica and a 3-0 defeat to Ghana last month. The former Argentina coach has already handed debuts to eight players, including Al-Zaqan, the Al-Fateh winger who opened the scoring on Tuesday after a well-worked free-kick involving Al-Ahli duo Abdulfattah Asiri and Mohammed Al-Fatil.
Al-Hilal striker Fallatah has also been brought back into the fold. Despite having failed to score in his previous eight internationals, his clipped finish perfectly complemented Hussain Al-Mogahwi’s defense-splitting pass. It was a strike typical of a forward who scored 16 times for Al-Wehda last season, rather than one who has yet to make a league appearance for Hilal since his transfer in June.
Victory against a team ranked 129th in the world is expected, but tonight’s official friendly against the reigning European champions will provide a better insight into the amount of work Bauza has to do. Known in Argentina as “El Patón” (Big Foot), if he can leave Viseu with at least a draw, it will be a big step forward — and help end comparisons with another South American who crossed the Saudi-UAE divide in a World Cup year.


LeBron’s last-second shot gives Cavs 98-95 win in Game 5

James pushes the Cavaliers within one victory of advancing in the Eastern Conference playoffs. (Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 26 April 2018
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LeBron’s last-second shot gives Cavs 98-95 win in Game 5

  • James' 3-pointer buzzer beater puts Cavaliers within one victory of advancing in the Eastern Conference playoffs
  • James finished with 44 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists.

CLEVELAND: LeBron James hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer, a crowning moment for another brilliant performance, to give Cleveland a 98-95 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night in Game 5, putting the Cavaliers within one victory of advancing in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Moments after blocking Victor Oladipo’s possible go-ahead driving layup, James caught the inbounds pass, took two dribbles and dropped the winner over Thaddeus Young.
As Cleveland’s sellout crowd exploded, James hugged rookie teammate Cedi Osman before jumping on the scorer’s table to celebrate another of those moments that will define his career.
James finished with 44 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and went 15 of 15 from the line.
Kyle Korver added 19 points and Cleveland’s much-maligned defense tightened just in time as the Cavaliers seized their first lead in the first-round series after being down 1-0 and 2-1.
Cleveland can close out Indiana with a win Friday night in Indianapolis.
Domantas Sabonis scored 22 points, and Young had 16 for the Pacers, who battled back to tie it 95-all on Sabonis’ 15-foot jumper with 33 seconds left. Indiana, which held Cleveland without a field goal for more than seven minutes during their fourth-quarter rally forced James into a turnover and had a chance to re-take the lead.
Oladipo, who shot just 2 of 15, drove the left side and was at the rim when James swooped in for a block on a play reminiscent of his Game 7 block on Andre Iguodala in the 2016 NBA Finals.
Oladipo’s shooting woes continued. He’s only 12 of 50 from the field in the last three games. He scored 32 in the Pacers’ Game 1 win, but the Cavs have been double-teaming him ever since.
The third quarter has been a major problem for Cleveland all season. The Cavs had tried everything to try and shake things up after halftime, even doing layup lines at the break in Game 4 like a high school squad.
Turns out, all it took was some defensive intensity.
Down by seven at half, the Cavs swarmed the Pacers in the third quarter, forcing five turnovers in the first six minutes and holding Indiana to one field goal over the first 6:52 while opening with a 19-3 run.
Cleveland outscored Indiana 32-17 in the third, when the Pacers shot just 5 for 16 (31 percent) and committed seven turnovers.
The Cavs were again without starting point guard George Hill, who missed his second straight game with back spasms.
DWYANE’S WORLD
James had enough to worry about with the Pacers that he didn’t want to discuss close friend Dwyane Wade’s future.
Miami’s star is mulling retirement after the Heat were eliminated Tuesday in Philadelphia. James spent four years playing in Miami with Wade, who began this season with the Cavs before being traded.
James said that following his last game against Wade he told him, “’If it’s like our last time going against each other, then it’s been everything and more.” James wants to wait for Wade to make his decision and will then “give a more in-depth analysis of his career if he decides to hang ‘em up.”
TIP-INS:
Pacers: Following Lance Stephenson’s aggressive, wrestling-like takedown of Jeff Green in the waning moments of Game 4, coach Nate McMillan said he reminded the fiery forward to be careful. “The officials are going to be watching that, Lance knows that and there are some times where I think they (the Cavs) are taking advantage.” ... Dropped to 2-12 in their last 14 games in Cleveland. ... James’ triple-double in Game 4 was the sixth against Indiana in the playoffs. James has done it to the Pacers three times.
Cavaliers: With his 21st 40-point game in the playoff, James tied the logo — Jerry West — for the second-most all-time. Michael Jordan scored at least 40 in 38 postseason games. .... Hill’s back has improved in the past few days, but he didn’t look close to playing while sitting stiffly in his locker-room chair before the game. ... Browns Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown sat courtside.
UP NEXT
Game 6 is Friday night at Indianapolis.