Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia's 4-1 defeat to Iraq

It was a tough night for the Green Falcons as they were undone by a passionate Iraq side in Basra
Updated 01 March 2018
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Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia's 4-1 defeat to Iraq

BASRA: Saudi Arabia crashed to a 4-1 defeat to Iraq in Basra on Wednesday. The defeat hit the Green Falcons’ World Cup preparations, with the result illustrating the size of the job Juan Antonio Pizzi has on his hands with the showpiece kicking off just in four months.

Here are five things we learned from the defeat in Basra.

A SHORTAGE OF FIREPOWER… AGAIN
At the risk of sounding like a broken record the Green Falcons are in desperate need of some teeth in attack. There was no question that Saudi Arabia played the more expansive football against Iraq, with plenty of intricate passing from the likes of Mohammad Al-Shalhoub, Mohammed Al-Kwikbi and Hassan Al-Raheb. But while they can call on a host of technically gifted midfield players, there is still a major lack of penetration up front. Juan Antonio Pizzi’s decision not to play any out-and-out forward was indicative of the lack of striking options — as was the fact Saudi Arabia’s only goal came from a full-back, and courtesy of a calamitous goalkeeping error. Pizzi has previously labelled his striking void “a deficiency” but if no Saudi strikers step up soon, it may transform into a disaster.

CRUMBLING UNDER PRESSURE
In front of a raucous home crowd of more than 60,000, Saudi Arabia struggled to handle the pressure cooker atmosphere of a highly partisan arena. This does not bode well with just four months until their World Cup opener against Russia at Moscow’s 81,000-seater Luzhniki Stadium. While the Green Falcons enjoy incredible support on their own turf, they have had much less experience of such big occasions away from home. A 3-0 World Cup qualifying victory in Thailand (attendance 41,000) is really the only recent example of a victory when a packed stadium has been against them. Improved mental strength will be key if Saudi Arabia are to avoid being overawed in June.

COUNTERING THE COUNTER-ATTACK
Beyond all the diplomacy and politics surrounding Wednesday’s friendly, the choice of Iraq as an opponent was also supposed to be because of their similar playing style to Egypt. If that is the case, Saudi Arabia should be worried. Iraq do not possess anywhere near the quality of the Pharaohs, yet their aggressive counter-attacking style exposed some major weaknesses in the Saudi backline. Saeed Alyami was replaced by Mohammed Jahfali after his own goal but it did little to solve the susceptibility to pace on the counter in the second half. If the Green Falcons struggled against Mohannad Ali and Humam Tariq, there should be genuine concern at the prospect of Egypt’s Mahmoud Kahraba and Mohamed Salah in Russia.

PIZZI UNDER PRESSURE
It seems a little ridiculous to question a football coach’s position just two games into his new job but Juan Antonio Pizzi will be only too aware of the size of the task he has taken on. These may only be “friendlies” but that term means little when you are four months out form a World Cup: Every match matters. Progression and results are expected so, like it or not, the pressure is already on Pizzi ahead of the clash with Ukraine later this month.

BASRA BEDAZZLES AS FIFA LOOK ON
The stars of the show in Basra were the Iraqi fans, who turned up in their tens of thousands to see Saudi Arabia’s first match on Iraqi soil in four decades. Beyond the packed stadium, another 10,000 people stood outside the ground watching the game on screens. It was a magnificent show of unity and while FIFA president Gianni Infantino was unable to accept an invitation to attend, Iraqi officials expect him to land in the country within the next couple of months. The hope is that FIFA deem Iraq ready to host competitive international football again. On this evidence, the decision should be an easy one for Infantino and Co. to make.


LIVE: Tunisia 1-4 Belgium. Double for Lukaku puts Eagles of Carthage on brink of early exit.

Updated 5 min 44 sec ago
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LIVE: Tunisia 1-4 Belgium. Double for Lukaku puts Eagles of Carthage on brink of early exit.

4.15PM: GOAL FOR BELGIUM: Any hopes Tunisia had of saving their World Cup have been snuffed out by Eden Hazard, who strikes home with the goalkeeper beaten to put Belgium 4-1 up. Unless Panama pull off a miracle tomorrow, you feel Tunisia are out...

4.10PM: Tunisia with a promising attack, but the move breaks down at the vital moment. Tunisia doing the right thing here, they have to attack and find two goals. Quickly...

3.48PM: HALF-TIME - While they had their moments, Tunisia were second best during that first period. Belgium could have perhaps got a couple more and the Eagles of Carthage have it all to do now. 

3.47PM: GOAL FOR BELGIUM - Moments after he should have got a goal Lukaku finds the back of the net, with a neat dink over the Mustafa following a great ball from Meunier. 

3.40PM: Again there is a lot to like about this Tunisian performance. Khazri is coming more and more intot he game and they are showng more ambition in the first 40 minutes than they did in the entire match against England. 

3.37PM: LOTS OF SUPPORT BACK HOME

 

 

 

3.32PM: TUNISIA COMING BACK INTO IT - Sassi and Khazri both have good shots saved during a period of dominance for Tunisia. Things are looking better for the North Africans. 

3.30PM: The Tunisia defence is being opened up at will here. Lukaku should have got his second and Belgium's third but a heavy touch proves his undoing. 

3.25PM: COMEBACK ON THE CARDS?

 

3.22PM: SUBSTITUTION -  Bronn is down hurt after blocking a shot, it looks like his knee buckled at a horrible angle. He is replaced by Hamdi Naguez.

3.17PM: GOAL FOR TUNISIA -  What a response! Bronn gets his head on the end of a Khazri freekick - GAME BACK ON! 

3.15PM: GOAL FOR BELGIUM -  It is all too easy for Belgium as Lukaku makes a pretty simple run yet finds himself in acres of space before drilling the ball leftfooted into the bottom corner. THis is not the start Tunisia were looking for. 

3.11PM: Almost another for Belgium as Lukaku does well down the right to set uop Hazard whose poor shot is easily saved by Mustapha.

3.10PM: FRUSTRATED FAN

 

3.08PM: Tunisia now know what they need to do, they cannot just sit back and wait for things to happen, they need to take the game to Belgium or face an early exit. 

3.05PM: GOAL FOR BELGIUM. Hazard makes no mistake from the spot, slotting the ball home for his 23rd international strike and an early lead for the favorites. 

3.05PM: PENALTY TO BELGIUM. Ben Youssef faouls the rampaging Hazard on the right side of the area and the referee has no hesitation to point to the spot. It's referred to the VAR who confimrs the bad challenge took place in the area. 

3.01PM: Twenty seconds gone and already Tunisia have dished out a hard challenge on Hazard, setting their stall out for the rest of the match. Belgium waste the resulting free-kick. 

3PM: The nationals anthems are being sung with gusto in Moscow. Can the passion in their voices be matched by passion and panache on the pitch? 

2.45PM: THE MEN TUNISIA NEED TO STOP - Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne are the main threats facing the Eagles of Carthage today. Can they keep them quiet? 

 

 

2.42PM: Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul swapped his goalkeeper with Farouk Mustapha taking over from Mouez Hassen, who played in the opening 2-1 defeat to England, failing to stop Kane scoring the late winner for the Three Lions.
In the only other change, Troyes midfielder Saif-Eddine Khaoui replaced Naim Sliti in the middle of the park for Tunisia.

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez started with the same team which beat Panama for Saturday's World Cup group match against Tunisia in Moscow.
Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku is looking to add to the two goals he scored in their opening 3-0 rout of Panama for the clash at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow.

2.40PM: TEAMS ANNOUNCED. 

BELGIUM - Thibaut Courtois; Toby Alderweireld, Dedryck Boyata, Jan Vertonghen; Thomas Meunier, Axel Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne, Yannick Carrasco; Eden Hazard (capt), Dries Mertens; Romelu Lukaku

TUNISIA - Farouk Mustapha; Syam Ben Youssef, Yassine Meriah, Fakhreddine Ben Youssef, Ali Maaloul; Dylan Bronn, Ellyes Skhiri, Ferjani Sassi; Saif-Eddine Khaoui, Wahbi Khazri (capt), Anice Badri

2.30PM: The Eagles of Carthage suffered last-minute heartache against England on Monday, when a Harry Kane header in injury-time sealed a 2-1 win for his side in the opening clash of Group G.

Nabil Maaloul’s men now face highly fancied Belgium knowing another defeat would end their interest in the tournament after just one game. They looked solid, without ever being spectacular against England. Can they find another gear and cause a shock against Eden Hazard and Co?