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.


Time for the Sun to shine on Hyderabad in the IPL

Updated 22 March 2019
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Time for the Sun to shine on Hyderabad in the IPL

  • Can MS Dhoni lead the Super Kings to another IPL title?
  • Who are the players to watch out for?

LONDON: The 12th edition of the Indian Premier League gets underway today with the usual razzmatazz, stacks of cash — in cricketing terms at least, pure conspicuous consumption — on display. This is the form of leather on willow that is as close to pure Americana as you are going to find.
As much as $15 million was shelled out at this year’s auction on 60 players. You only have to look at the riches the players are now earning to realize why every big-hitting batsman or wily bowler wants a piece of the IPL. Varun Chakravarthy went for $1.2 million, a millionaire overnight having not even played for his country.
Once again the Chennai Super Kings are the team to beat. Under MS Dhoni the powerhouses have won three titles — a record they share with the Mumbai Indians.
Here we give you the lowdown on cricket’s brashest format and take a peek into our crystal ball to tell you what we think is going to happen.

DELHI CAPITALS (8th last year)

Have only made the last four three times, finished rock bottom last year and decided something had to change. So they changed their name from the Daredevils to the Capitals, the new name as prosaic as their past cricket. They have added Shikhar Dhawan for power at the top of the order and to compliment the decent bowling attack of Trent Boult and Kagiso Rabada.
ARAB NEWS SAYS: The only way is up but will finish outside the top four.

RAJASTHAN ROYALS (4th)

The winners of the first IPL they have made the last four three times since. A look at their batting line-up — Steve Smith, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Ajinkya Rahane — will always trouble the opposition bowlers and with Jofra Archer and Jaydev Unadkat in the attack will always take wickets. Can they back up their impressive team sheet with equally impressive results?
ARAB NEWS SAYS: Will reach the last four but will miss the departing Stokes and Buttler who leave for a pre-World Cup training camp.

KINGS PUNJAB (7th)

An impressive spin attack of Ravi Ashwin, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Chakravarthy will once again prove that T20, once thought to be the graveyard for slow bowlers, is a game built just for them. They will look for West Indies legend Chris Gayle to find his big-hitting range early on to give them the totals to defend.
ARAB NEWS SAYS: Could prove to be the surprise package if, and it is a big if, their big names fire. We think they will just miss out on the last four.

Will Chris Gayle fire again this season? (AFP)

ROYAL CHALLENGERS BANGALORE (6th)

One look at their batting line-up is enough to give any bowler the dreaded yips. Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers could have their very own “who is the greatest short-form batsman of all-time” competition. The addition of Marcus Stoinis will give the side more balance and a chance of winning their first title.
ARAB NEWS SAYS: A side with Kohli and De Villiers cannot go three years without a top-four finish.

MUMBAI INDIANS (5th)

The Manchester United of the IPL, they have won three titles and with Rohit Sharma as captain, and a settled side — Kieron Pollard, Lasith Malinga and Jasprit Bumrah just three of the retained stars — will always be a danger. But they finished outside the top four last year and perhaps miss a bit of fire power in the batting department.
ARAB NEWS SAYS: Another year outside the top four.

Virat Kohli is dangerous no matter what the format. (AFP) 

KOLKATA KNIGHT RIDERS (3)

Last year’s top-four finish was a surprise and there is the sense they will struggle to match that this time around. With Windies stars Carlos Brathwaite and Andre Russell in the side and spin king Sunil Narine they will always have a chance but it is perhaps expecting too much to repeat last season’s surge to the semis.
ARAB NEWS SAYS: They will not be able to repeat last year’s heroics and will finish in sixth.

CHENNAI SUPER KINGS (Champions)

The team to beat, they have kept most of their title-winning side from last year and still have MS Dhoni — will he ever retire? — at the helm. It is hard to make a case for them not reaching the final, harder still not making the last four. If there is one possible worry is it that they have not strengthened much over the winter.
ARAB NEWS SAYS: In the last four.

SUNRISERS HYDERABAD (2nd)

Will still be smarting from their heavy defeat in the final at the hands of Chennai last year. They look to have the strongest batting line-up with Kane Williamson, Martin Guptil, Jonny Bairstow and David Warner to share the big-hitting responsibilities and with spinner of the moment Rashid Khan they will always be able to take wickets.
ARAB NEWS SAYS: Champions