Iraq coach hails Saudi Arabia friendly as ‘very important moment’ for country

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Iraqi fans cheer as their national football team players take part in a training session on February 27, 2018 in the city of Basra a day ahead of their friendly match against Saudi Arabia. (AFP)
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Iraqi national football team players take part in a training session on February 27, 2018 in the city of Basra a day ahead of their friendly match against Saudi Arabia. (AFP)
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Iraqi fans cheer as their national football team players take part in a training session on February 27, 2018 in the city of Basra a day ahead of their friendly match against Saudi Arabia. (AFP)
Updated 27 February 2018
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Iraq coach hails Saudi Arabia friendly as ‘very important moment’ for country

DUBAI: Former Iraq coach Jorvan Vieira believes that Wednesday’s friendly against Saudi Arabia represents a “very important moment” for football in the country.
Iraq have played just one competitive fixture at home since 2001 — a 2-0 defeat to Jordan in World Cup qualifying seven years ago. Friendly fixtures on home soil have been sporadic because of the tumultuous security situation.
International football did, however, come back to the country last year as Iraq recorded wins over Jordan and Kenya in Basra, and drew 1-1 with Syria in Karbala.
And Vieira, who famously guided the Lions of Mesopotamia to a shock Asian Cup triumph in 2007, believes Saudi Arabia’s participation in a friendly in Basra is a major milestone.
“It’s a very important moment for Iraq,” Vieira told Arab News. “The years without football have been challenging for these fans who love the game, and the national team, so much.
“It is another important step by the Iraq FA. Still there are problems in Iraq, but it’s about creating a safe environment for football to take place.
“Saudi Arabia is a big, influential country in the region — both in football and politics — and their national team is very well respected.
“This kind of match against a strong team like Saudi Arabia will raise the profile and hopefully help FIFA see that competitive matches should be considered again.”
During his time as Iraq coach, Vieira never oversaw a match on home soil. It is a source of regret for the Brazilian coach, who was made an honorary Iraqi citizen after the 2007 Asian Cup win.
“Of course, I would have loved to have coached the national team in Iraq,” Vieira said. “The Iraqi people have a great passion when the clubs in the local leagues play but for the national team it is a different level. Their love for the flag and the national team is incredible.”
That love is expected to manifest itself in a capacity crowd at the Basra Sports City Stadium, which welcomed nearly 60,000 fans to the friendly against Jordan last June.
A similar attendance is anticipated tonight, with Saudi Arabia unquestionably the highest calibre of opposition to play in Iraq since FIFA lifted its most recent ban.
The fixture also represents a thawing in political relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, which have been strained for many years. It will be the first encounter between the teams on Iraqi soil since a Gulf Cup clash in Baghdad in 1979.
“The problems between the countries are well known so there is also an opportunity to put those in order — an opportunity for peace,” said Vieira, who currently coaches UAE side Al-Ittihad Kalba. “Iraq needs to build a strong infrastructure around security and organization for foreign teams to feel comfortable and secure. For Saudi Arabia to come is a major statement that it is possible.”
Vieira has experienced the football culture of both countries having also previously managed Saudi Arabia outfit Al-Ta’ee. But there is no question that ahead of tonight’s friendly, the 64-year-old’s allegiances remain firmly with Iraq.
“There are similarities between football in Iraq and Saudi Arabia — both countries have quality players and, of course, both have brilliant supporters, too.
“But from my side, I always support Iraq and I hope Iraq can win. If they do win the match it will be a very important result for them; they are on the way to rebuilding a new national team and a new future.”


Juan Antonio Pizzi is still the right man to lead Saudi Arabia, says former Green Falcons boss

Updated 22 June 2018
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Juan Antonio Pizzi is still the right man to lead Saudi Arabia, says former Green Falcons boss

  • Saudi Arabia's 1996 Asian Cup-winning coach Nelo Vingada backs Pizzi to lead side into next year's Asian Cup.
  • Green Falcons face Egypt on Monday with both looking to land their first point in Russia.

MOSCOW: Saudi Arabia’s 1996 Asian Cup-winning boss Nelo Vingada has called on the country’s football authorities to keep faith with head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi despite a disappointing showing in Russia.
The Green Falcons still have to face Egypt in the final match of Group A, but have already been eliminated following a 5-0 defeat at the hands of Russia in the opening game on June 14 in Moscow and a 1-0 loss to Uruguay five days later in Rostov.
 “I was expecting a little more from Saudi Arabia to be honest,” Vingada told Arab News.
“In the first game they were disappointing but a first game of the World Cup is always hard and especially when it is the first game and everyone is watching. Plenty of teams at the World Cup did not play well in the first game.
“But playing Russia in Russia and to lose is what you would normally expect from Saudi Arabia and while it was far from positive, people should not get carried away.
“The game with Uruguay was much improved in terms of organization and defense and it showed more of the character of the Saudi Arabia team.”
In the past, coaches have been axed following disappointing World Cup campaigns but with the 2019 Asian Cup just seven months away, the Portuguese tactician would prefer to see some stability rather than yet another new man in the dugout.
 “The Asian Cup is in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia will be one of the contenders,” Vingada said. “It is better to stay with the same coach. He has a vision of how he wants the team to play and he now knows the players and the players know him.”
Constant changing has not helped Saudi Arabia in the past and Pizzi himself has been in the job just seven months.
“The problem is not the coach. He should not be changed, that has happened before but results did not improve, but the mentality has to change.”
Despite that Vingada, who has coached 
Egyptian club giants Zamalek and the country’s Under-23 team, believes that the Pharaohs, also eliminated, will prevail when the two regional rivals meet on Monday in Volgograd.
 “This is an important game for pride, the players and the countries. It is still the World Cup. Egypt have a little more quality I think and have Mohamed Salah too.” 
The Liverpool striker has been recovering from a shoulder injury sustained in the Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid in late May and missed the opening game 1-0 loss to Uruguay. He played in the second game, a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Russia, scoring from the spot late in the match to earn a consolation.
“Any coach would take Salah because he can win you games but overall Egypt have been a little disappointing and a little unlucky.”
The bad luck came when conceding a last-minute goal to Uruguay and a fluke own goal to get Russia off the mark. “Uruguay are a tough team and it is no shame to lose 3-1 to a Russia team at home who are playing to qualify for the next round. It showed that European and South American teams still have a little more quality.”
 “Egypt just made some mistakes at the wrong time but this is football and without mistakes there are no goals.”
Ahead of the clash against Egypt Pizzi confirmed his intention to stay as Saudi Arabia boss, looking to build on the seven months he has had to imprint his ideas on the team ahead of the Asian Cup.