Bulgaria defeat gives KSA coach plenty to ponder
Bulgaria defeat gives KSA coach plenty to ponder
Instead, coach Edgardo Bauza and his team return to the Gulf calm, knowing the focus of the 12-day, three-match training camp in western Europe was on experimentation and implementation rather than any sort of results-based calculations.
“The score is not so important,” the Argentine told Arab News after watching his team lose 1-0 to Bulgaria on Monday night courtesy of a second-half header from captain Ivelin Popov.
“We had our chances and we have to be content. We played players that usually do not play, I had the opportunity to see how they performed, and now we must look forward and work to improve before the next camp.”
The defeat consigned Bauza to a second defeat in as many games, but comparing results would be foolhardy. Following a fine 2-0 win over Latvia last Tuesday, Bauza set his side up in Friday’s 3-0 loss to Portugal solely to defend. Inside the Estádio do Restelo against Bulgaria he made 11 changes and switched formations from a 5-4-1 to a 4-5-1.
With Saudi Arabia’s considerable Al-Hilal contingent having been allowed to return early to the Gulf ahead of Saturday’s AFC Champions League final first leg, out went his preferred full-back pairing of Yasir Al-Shahrani and Mohammed Al-Burayk.
In their place came Al-Ahli duo Saeed Al-Muwallad and Mansoor Al-Harbi, while Muhannad Assiri led the line in place of the debutant Haza Al-Hazza.
The result was a scrappy match, low on quality, in which Saudi Arabia struggled to create a clear-cut opening, were punished for sloppy defending, and eventually saw Al-Harbi sent off.
“Taking into account the opposition and the fact the team we named was not our first choice, it was not a shock result,” Bauza said. “That said, I believe we should not have lost.”
Against a team ranked 27 places higher in FIFA’s world rankings, the Green Falcons appeared to cede possession early on. Yet for all Bulgaria had the ball, they offered little threat and it was Saudi striker Assiri who came closest to opening the scoring on the stroke of half-time. The Ahli forward capitalized on poor defending to latch onto a hopeful long ball and lift it over goalkeeper Plamen Iliev, only to see a Bulgarian boot clear it off the line.
Bauza had cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines in the first half, urging his side in Spanish to attack only to watch helplessly as the message fell on deaf ears. In the second period, his desire was delivered as Saudi Arabia racked up a host of corners. Mohammed Al-Fatil saw his bullet header palmed over the crossbar, before a similar header from Assiri would have returned a goal if it had been anywhere other than straight at Iliev.
“I told them we need to attack more, to try to get the ball in the opposition area,” said Bauza. “We managed four or five goal-scoring opportunities in the second period, so it was a positive sign that the team listened to my message.”
Eventually, however, Bulgaria’s threat appeared. Waleed Abdullah was forced to make an excellent pair of saves before, with a little under 10 minutes to go, a lapse in concentration in the Saudi defence allowed Popov an unmarked header from close range. Moments later Al-Harbi was shown a straight red for a rash challenge on Giorgi Milanov.
“We have a lot of time, but also a lot of work,” added Bauza, who will travel to Moscow for the World Cup draw on Dec. 1.
“Let’s keep watching the local championship, see all the players, and select the best for our next camp in March.”
Joan Oumari makes case for Lebanon causing Asian Cup shock
- Lebanon have made it to their first Asian Cup since 2000 and are up to 77th in world rankings.
- Oumari feels the Cedars have what it takes to upset a few of the big guns.
LONDON: While much of the focus ahead of the Asian Cup will be on defending champions Australia, who are one of the favorites, along with Japan and South Korea, Lebanon’s Joan Oumari is hoping his side can grab people’s attention and cause a shock or two.
The Cedars’ last appearance at the tournament came back in 2000 when they were hosts — this is the first time they have qualified for the tournament on merit.
Since their FIFA world ranking fell to 147 in 2016, Lebanon have been one of Asia’s most improved and in-form teams, with their ranking jumping to its current position of 77 — the highest in their history.
Drawn alongside regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia, Qatar and North Korea in Group E, it will not be easy, but Oumari, one of their star players, is convinced they can put on a show when the tournament gets under way in January.
“I think when we play and stay like we are now we can go far,” the defender told Arab News. “In football everything is possible and we have a great team.”
Oumari knows that just being back at the Asian Cup after a 19-year absence is already a victory for the nation of six million people.
“For sure it is a great thing for us as a national team, but also for all the people (of Lebanon),” the 30-year-old said. “I hope we will write history and get very far in this tournament.”
Oumari’s journey to play for the Cedars is an interesting, and not unfamiliar one in the recent climate of war, family displacement and refugees. His parents, both born in Lebanon, fled the country during the civil war of the 1970s, making their way to Germany, where Oumari was born in 1988.
Starting his professional career in the lower divisions, he gradually worked his way through the professional tiers of club football in Germany, playing for SV Babelsberg in the fourth division, FC Rot-Weiß Erfurt in the third tier, before making the step up to FSV Frankfurt in 2.Bundesliga in 2013.
Along the way he came to the attention of the Lebanon Football Association, and when the invitation came to join the Cedars in 2013, there was no hesitation in accepting and representing the country of his heritage, if not his birth.
“When I got the invitation from the national team for sure I didn’t have to think about it,” he recalled. “I was very proud to play for the national team.”
His debut in a 2-0 win against Syria in September 2013 did not go to plan, however, getting sent off late in the game. His next appearance would not come for almost two years after Miodrag Radulovic had taken over as coach.
“To be honest it was my decision not to play for the national team for these two years,” he said.
“The main reason was our ex-coach (Giuseppe) Giannini, because after he invited me to the national team I was on the bench and I am not used to flying all over the world just to sit on the bench.
“I am not a player who sits on the bench in my club and not in the national team. After Mr. Radulovic started at the national team the federation called me and convinced me to come.”
The change in fortunes for the Cedars since Radulovic took over has been remarkable, and as it stands they are one of the most in-form teams in Asia, going 16 games without a loss dating back to March 2016.
A friendly match with defending Asian Cup champions Australia in Sydney next month will be sure to provide tougher competition, but given their form they travel to Sydney confident of causing an upset.
While the Asian Cup is within touching distance, Oumari’s immediate focus is on club matters and trying to help his side avoid relegation. Having made the move to Japan’s Sagan Tosu, becoming the first Lebanese player to play in the J.League, Oumari has been in and out of a side that has struggled for consistency and currently lie 17th in the 18-team league.
“I hope that we can avoid relegation and stay up, that’s why I came to help the team,” he said.
One of his new teammates in Japan is Spanish World Cup winner Fernando Torres, and despite the team’s struggles on the field, Oumari is loving his time in Japan.
“It’s really nice here and I like it very much,” he said. “I am enjoying the time with my teammates after training. For sure Fernando (Torres) is a great football player and any football player can learn from him no matter which position you are playing.”