Tense stalemate with Iraq keeps Saudi Arabia’s U23 AFC Cup hopes alive

Iraq retained their position at the top of Group D in the AFC U23 Championship after being held 0-0 by Saudi Arabia. (Courtesy: AFC.com)
Updated 13 January 2018
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Tense stalemate with Iraq keeps Saudi Arabia’s U23 AFC Cup hopes alive

Daniel Teglia’s Saudi Under 23 side kept their hopes of reaching the knockout stages of AFC U-23 Championship firmly alive with a 0-0 draw with group leaders Iraq in Changshu.
The point earned from the 0-0 stalemate puts Saudi Arabia joint second in the group on two points behind Iraq who lead the Group C with four points. Jordan’s 1-1 draw with Malaysia in the earlier game played in Group C leaves Teglia’s team with a great opportunity of qualifying for the next stage if they can beat Malaysia in their final game.
Saudi Arabia had made one change from the side that drew 2-2 with Jordan, as they dropped striker Abdulaziz Al-Aryani and started Jaber Asiri who played a part as a substitute in Saudi’s late fight-back in the opening group game with Jordan.
Despite a comfortable 4-1 victory over Malaysia in their opening match, Abdul-Ghani Shahad opted to make two changes to his side, with defender Ahmed Abdul-Ridha and midfielder Ibrahim Bayish coming in for midfielder Mohammed Jafal and striker Farhan Shakur. The two changes saw Alaa Mahawi pushed up from full back to the right side of midfield as the Iraqis packed their midfield and played with a false number nine in midfielder Ibrahim Bayish.
There was little in the first half that amounted to goalmouth action with a cagey start from both sides with the only action of note being two cautions brandished by Chinese referee Ma Ning in the opening ten minutes. Alaa Mahawi of Iraq earned the first yellow in the fifth minute after a late challenge on Saudi’s Ali Al-Lajami and on 10 minutes Saudi midfielder Osama Al-Khalaf was shown a yellow for a foul on Hussein Ali.
The match was at the mercy of the referee’s whistle with 19 fouls committed and 16 free kicks conceded in the first half as the first forty-five minutes was full of stoppages and interruptions.
Late in the half Iraqi midfielder Amjad Atwan was yellow carded for leaning with his elbow on a Saudi player and from the resulting free kick from Sami Al-Naji produced Saudi and the half’s only effort on target from a Abdululah Alamri header that was comfortably saved by the Iraqi keeper Ahmed Basil.
The only chance for Iraq came in the 27th minute when Alaa Mahawi got down the right flank leaving Hamdan Al-Shamrani in his tracks and crossed into the box. But Iraq’s Hamza Adnan was unable to get a touch on the ball and was quickly surrounded as a combination of the Saudi keeper and three defenders blocked the Iraqi left back’s path to goal to his own frustration.
From the opening of the second half, Iraq played with more urgency, as it looked as if Abdul-Ghani Shahad had given them a stern team-talk at the break. They found space behind the Saudi backline that was exploited by the wide players Hussein Ali and Iraqi captain Bashar Resan, as the Saudis conceded two corners in as many minutes with Iraq having four shots on goal.
The physical and experienced Iraqi side piled on the pressure with their coach urging his side to push well up into the Saudi half. Seeing his side hemmed in, Saudi coach Daniel Teglia made an early change in attack bringing on the lively striker Rakan Al-Anaze, the hero of the first game with Jordan as they soaked up the early pressure.
Both coaches were animated on the sidelines with the facial expressions of Iraqi coach Abdul-Ghani Shahad seemingly getting more and more frustrated as the half went on. The Iraqis looking to win and qualify for the next round, sent on strikers Alaa Abbas and Farhan Shakur for Hussein Ali and Ibrahim Bayish in the last five minutes in a search for the elusive goal.
But while Iraq dominated with 56 percent of the possession, the Saudi back four were disciplined, remaining firm and compact to Iraq’s unorthodox attacking formation headed by midfielder Ibrahim Bayish and despite the Iraqis creativity in the final third, the Saudi defense limited their opponents to only a couple of clear cut chances in the whole ninety minutes as the match ended in a 0-0 stalemate.

STAR MAN
The tall central defender Abdulelah Alamri epitomised the Saudi doggedness in defense with an assured and assertive performance at the heart of the defense making fives clearances and three key interceptions in the game, as he proved to be Saudi’s best player on the night.


‘Good, but not good enough’: Juan Antonio Pizzi on Saudi Arabia’s defeat to Uruguay

Updated 20 June 2018
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‘Good, but not good enough’: Juan Antonio Pizzi on Saudi Arabia’s defeat to Uruguay

  • A Luis Suaréz goal midway through the first half gave Uruguay a 1-0 win
  • Pizzi had spoken passionately about the need for his side to demonstrate a higher level of focus and performance

ROSTOV-ON-DON: Good, but not good enough.
That was what Juan Antonio Pizzi stated as he declared himself pleased with his team’s performance in the 1-0 defeat to Uruguay on Wednesday night.
But he lamented his side’s lack of firepower as they exited the World Cup after just two matches.
Pizzi had spoken passionately about the need for his side to demonstrate a higher level of focus and performance in Rostov-on-Don after losing their opening game 5-0 to hosts Russia in Moscow last week.
The Argentine got his wish with a display that saw the Green Falcons fight throughout and edge possession against a Uruguay side ranked 14th in the world.
A Luis Suaréz goal midway through the first half after poor goalkeeping from Mohammed Al-Owais, however, was enough to hand the Green Falcons a 12th successive World Cup defeat.
The result means that even with a win against Egypt on Monday, the Green Falcons are no longer capable of progressing to the knock-out stages from Group A.
“We had a lot of ball possession and were able to impose our style of play and distribution,” said Pizzi. “We conceded a goal from a random play and didn’t have the weapons or tools to try to equalize. We kept the ball well and weren’t really troubled defensively, but lacked that ability to score.”
Indeed, for all their possession, Saudi Arabia have managed just three shots on target in 180 minutes of football. Against Russia, they failed to muster a single effort on target and the managed just three against Uruguay, two of which came in the final minutes when they knew they had to score or face elimination. None of the three shots came from a striker.
“This is our weakness. We have good ball possession, but no effectiveness. We lack the depth and skill required to win these games,” Pizzi added. “We have that deficiency and have looked for solutions, but we haven’t quite come up with one yet. But that is one of the reasons great forward are in high demand and are the elite players in world football.”
Pizzi had made four changes ahead of the match, dropping goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf in favor of Al-Owais and introducing Ali Al-Bulayhi at the heart of the defense alongside Osama Hawsawi. Further upfield, Hattan Bahberi came in for Yahya Al-Shehri and Fahad Al-Muwallad replaced Mohammed Al-Sahlawi. The changes, particularly the inclusion of Bahberi, seemed to give the side more impetus in midfield.
“The difference between the performance in the first game and this game is enormous,” Pizzi said. “The only way to compete at this level is to play at the level we did here. And even then it was not enough even to get a draw. Undoubtedly there were other factors aside from the pressure of playing in the opening game that made a difference, but it’s true that the difference was enormous.”
Many critics had predicted a deluge of goals from the likes of Suarez and Cavani, yet both were kept at bay. Save for a couple of half-chances early on, neither came close to scoring until the 23rd minute.
A corner from Carlos Sanchez sailed into the area and when Al-Owais came for it but failed to connect with his punch, Barcelona forward Suaréz was left with the simplest of tap-ins. He was so caught off-guard, he actually looked surprised as he reeled away in celebration.
“I believe you cannot be relaxed in any match,” Suarez said when asked by a Uruguayan journalist whether he had taken it easy against the Saudis.
“We wanted to win and to progress to the knock-out stage and this game simply showed how difficult it is. That’s the World Cup for you though and we are obviously delighted with how we have performed so far to progress.”
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez did not share his striker’s sentiments.
“Saudi Arabia wanted to excel and give a better account of themselves after losing to Russia,” he said.
“They did that very well and we have to respect them. But what surprised me the most is how we played. We underperformed.”