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Bauza tells Saudi Arabia players to learn fast ahead of key Portugal clash

Edgardo Bauza has taken the Saudi football to western Europe for a 12-day training camp. (AP)
VISEU, Portugal: With just 215 days until the start of the FIFA World Cup, Edgardo Bauza will take charge of his first official Saudi Arabia match tonight against European champions Portugal, insisting his players must learn quick in the mountainous city of Viseu.
“Viseu” comes from the Portuguese word “vista”, meaning view, and it is appropriate given the Argentine coach hopes to finish the evening with a better vision of what work he has to do before boarding his flight from Riyadh to Russia next June. Having arrived at the Saudi helm only in September — after the squad had already qualified for next summer’s showpiece — he has overseen three unofficial games, against Jamaica, Ghana and, earlier this week, Latvia. Tonight’s glamor tie will be the first against another qualified side.
“Facing top teams like Portugal is part of our preparation program ahead of the World Cup,” said Bauza, who has taken Saudi to western Europe for a 12-day training camp. “This is the second of three games here and is very important. We are in an important phase because we are only starting to work with the squad. Now the team is getting used to our working methods and I am getting to know them better.
“Portugal has qualified for the World Cup and we know they have good players that will give us a hard game. Against us, they will likely play many that we have not seen playing too much at this level before, but it is very important to show respect to all. For us, it will be a very difficult game and we must learn quickly how to play against a team of this high standard.”
Bauza’s counterpart Fernando Santos is expected to give debuts to a number of young players after naming an inexperienced squad, including the uncapped Marcos Lopes of Monaco and Real Sociedad’s Kévin Rodrigues. But, highlighting Renato Sanchez, Santos stressed his youthful selection does not belittle the level of the opposition, nor the importance of the match.
“Age is not important,” he said. “Renato was 18 years old when he went to the Euros. Others, like Raphael Guerreiro, were very young. It is an open team without ages. What matters is the individual or collective quality, that is what makes them come or not. Of course, these 23 players will not all be in the World Cup squad, but some will be, like others who did not come and can be. There is only one player who is the exception.”
That exception will not feature tonight. Cristiano Ronaldo is absent, not called upon by Santos who prefers to run his eye over other options. Saudi, however, are not anticipating an easier ride.
“Ronaldo is obviously a very important player for any team, but naturally I still expect a difficult match,” Bauza said. “Portugal has a deep squad and are able to fill the gaps of players that will not be present. We want to first play a good game against Portugal and then again against Bulgaria [on Monday]. The objective is to be ready for the World Cup, but we have time to work.”