Saudi Arabia set to begin World Cup preparations with friendly against Moldova

Juan Antonio Pizzi will take charge of Saudi Arabia for the first time against Moldova. (AFP)
Updated 19 February 2018

Saudi Arabia set to begin World Cup preparations with friendly against Moldova

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi has announced a 28-man squad for the second stage of the Green Falcons’ preparations for the World Cup.
The party will gather in Jeddah on Tuesday for a seven-day training camp which culminates with a friendly match against Moldova at the King Abdullah Sport City Stadium on Feb. 26. Six of the squad (goalkeeper Abdullah, defenders Assiri and Hassan Muath and midfielders Ibrahim Ghaleb, Hattan Bahebri and Al-Kuwaikbi) are also part of the 19-man Green Falcons squad that will take on Iraq in Basra two days later.
The late addition of the Moldova game to the hectic schedule means Saudi Arabia will now play at least six friendly matches between now and their opening World Cup Group A match with Russia on June 14 — with the possibility of three more to come, including a high-profile game with Italy on May 28.
Pizzi’s squad for the Jeddah camp and the Moldova match heralds first call-ups for Al-Shabab midfielders Abdulwahab Jaafar and Abdullah Al-Khaibari as well as Al-Ettifaq winger Mohammed Al-Kuwaikbi following impressive league campaigns.
Al-Ittihad goalkeeper Fawaz Al-Qarni returns to the squad after a four-year absence, with the last of his two caps a 2-0 friendly defeat against Georgia in 2014. Al-Qarni’s hot form (he has not conceded a goal in 303 minutes of league football) in recent weeks means he is one of five goalkeepers called up to the Jeddah camp as competition for the three goalkeeper spots on the plane to Russia 2018 intensifies. Al-Ahli duo Yasser Al-Mosaileem and Mohammed Al-Owais join Al Hilal’s Abdullah Al-Mayouf and Al-Nassr’s Waleed Abdullah to complete the quintet of goalkeepers looking to present their credentials for the No. 1 spot.
Another Al-Ittihad man making a return to the squad is defender Ahmed Assiri who has ten caps to his name but has not featured for the Green Falcons since their 7-2 friendly victory over Cambodia in January last year. Assiri was not part of the squad that successfully navigated the World Cup qualifiers.
Absent from the squad are all of the nine Saudi players who have joined Spanish clubs in the January transfer window, led by midfielder Yahya Al-Shehri and wingers Fahad Al-Muwallad and Salem Al-Dawsari, as the training camp falls outside the designated FIFA International Match Calendar.
Left-back Abdulrahman Al-Obaid is the highest profile exclusion from the squad as he was pipped for the two slots in his position by Al-Ahli’s Mansour Al-Harbi and Al Hilal’s Yasser Al-Shahrani.
Al-Hilal duo Nawaf Al-Abed and Salman Al-Faraj were not considered due to injury, while vice-captain Taisir Al-Jassim has made an immediate return to the squad following full recovery from ruptured knee ligaments.

Squad for next week’s training camp and match against Moldova

Goalkeepers: Mohammed Al-Owais, Yasser Al Mosaileem (Al-Ahli); Waleed Abdullah (Al-Nassr); Abdullah Al-Mayouf (Al-Hilal); Fawaz Al-Qarni (Al-Ittihad)

Defenders: Osama Hawsawi, Mohammed Al-Burayk, Yasser Al-Shahrani (Al-Hilal), Omar Hawsawi (Al-Nassr), Motaz Hawsawi, Mansour Al-Harbi (Al-Ahli), Ahmed Assiri (Al-Ittihad); Hassan Muath (Al-Shabab).

Midfielders: Ibrahem Ghaleb, Abdulaziz Al-Jibreen (Al-Nassr); Abdulmalik Al-Khaibari, Mohammed Kanno, Abdullah Otayf (Al-Hilal), Abdullah Al-Khaibari, Abdulwahab Jaafar, Hattan Bahebri (Al-Shabab), Taisir Al-Jassim, Hussein Al-Moqahwi, Salman Al-Moasher (Al-Ahli); Mohammed Al-Kuwaikbi (Al-Ittifaq)

Forwards: Mohammed Al-Sahlawi (Al-Nassr); Mohannad Assiri (Al-Ahli); Mujahid Al Mania (Al-Hilal).

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

Updated 20 June 2018

‘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.”