Juan Antonio Pizzi’s Saudi Arabia need to acclimatize quickly against tougher opponents in Ukraine, Belgium friendlies

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Saudi Arabia’s new coach Juan Antonio Pizzi picked Marbella for his latest training camp for the Green Falcons. (Twitter: @SaudiFF)
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Saudi Arabia’s new coach Juan Antonio Pizzi picked Marbella for his latest training camp for the Green Falcons. (Twitter: @SaudiFF)
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Saudi Arabia’s new coach Juan Antonio Pizzi picked Marbella for his latest training camp for the Green Falcons. (Twitter: @SaudiFF)
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Saudi Arabia’s new coach Juan Antonio Pizzi picked Marbella for his latest training camp for the Green Falcons. (Twitter: @SaudiFF)
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Saudi Arabia’s new coach Juan Antonio Pizzi picked Marbella for his latest training camp for the Green Falcons. (Twitter: @SaudiFF)
Updated 22 March 2018
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Juan Antonio Pizzi’s Saudi Arabia need to acclimatize quickly against tougher opponents in Ukraine, Belgium friendlies

MARBELLA: Be it cities, squads or footballing styles, comparing characteristics on paper is rarely an accurate way to predict outcomes.
Case in point: Marbella and Moscow. The two cities could hardly be more contrasting. The 140,000 residents of the former generally enjoy a year-round sun-kissed Spanish city hugging the Mediterranean coastline. The 12 million or so Muscovites living in the latter reside in a landlocked, history-rich metropolis and regularly experience sub-zero conditions.
Yet, while the two cities are as different as chalk and cheddar, Saudi Arabia’s new coach Juan Antonio Pizzi — who had brought his team to the south of Spain for a 10-day warm-weather training camp — may be learning a thing or two about how his team react to the cold. Despite Marbella boasting its usual clear blue firmament, it has also this week been engulfed in unseasonably chilly and windy climes.
On Wednesday, the city’s famous beaches, usually thronged with holidaymakers, were eerily quiet as tourists walked the promenade in hats and jackets. Several outdoor signs advertising restaurants and shops lay face down having been blown over by strong winds.
This was not part of the plan.
Pizzi, a veteran Argentine coach who led Chile to Copa America glory in 2016, selected Marbella for his 28-man squad’s third of five preparatory camps ahead of the FIFA World Cup. With two friendly matches against Ukraine and Belgium, much will be gleaned from performances between now and the end of the month, and there is clearly much work to be done.
With Saudi’s only matches under Pizzi so far having been a stress-free 3-0 win over lowly Moldova in Jeddah and an experimental side’s disappointing 4-1 defeat to Iraq in Basra, this week’s camp arguably marks the first real insight into the new coach’s preparations. His predecessor, Edgardo Bauza, was given just three official matches before the country’s football federation decided improvement was not quick enough. With less than 12 weeks until the tournament curtain-raiser against hosts Russia, both Pizzi and the Saudi FA will be well aware time is of the essence.
It is no coincidence also that tonight’s opponents Ukraine are similar in stature and style to Russia. Pizzi waited until after December’s World Cup draw before confirming any of his plans and decided to forego glitzy ties against Brazil and Argentina in favor of practical encounters. The evening’s match at Estadio Municipal, given the opposition and weather conditions, could thus provide an early indication of what can be expected on June 14 when his side face another tough, physical team comfortable in brisk, breezy conditions.
While the Green Falcons are likely to be defensively-minded in Russia, Pizzi famously produced a high-octane style of play with Chile that involved pressing deep into the opposition half, and, after winning possession, flooding forward in numbers. It is a style that requires inexhaustible fitness, something he does not have at his disposal with Saudi Arabia. How he adapts his tactics will perhaps prove the hot-topic of this week’s camp. It will, hopefully for Pizzi and Co, not prove to be the only thing hot in Marbella.

THREE STARS LACKING MATCH-TIME
Most worryingly for Juan Antonio Pizzi will be that three of his Saudi Arabia team’s most crucial cogs — Salem Al-Dawsari, Fahad Al-Muwallad and Yahya Al-Shehri — have not played competitive football since January, having been sent to Spain’s La Liga in a bid to gain international experience ahead of the World Cup.
Sami Al Jaber, the former national team player who played at four World Cups between 1994 and 2006, backed the strategy of sending his compatriots to Spain, although was quick to add a caveat.
“The Saudi League does not have enough intensity to prepare players for a tournament like the World Cup,” Al-Jaber, who played in England with Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2000, told the Associated Press earlier this week. “That is why players need to go overseas. The idea is a good one, but it just needs time to see whether it works for the World Cup. It is better if they are playing and so it is up to the coach to see how they perform in the friendly games.”


Celtics beat Cavs in Game 5, lead NBA Eastern Conference finals 3-2

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum attempts a layup in front of Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James during the third quarter of game five of the Eastern conference finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)
Updated 9 min 14 sec ago
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Celtics beat Cavs in Game 5, lead NBA Eastern Conference finals 3-2

  • Rookie Jayson Tatum scored 24 points — his ninth 20-point game of the postseason — and the Celtics held LeBron James to two fourth-quarter points.
  • Game 6 is in Cleveland on Friday night, with the decisive seventh game back in Boston on Sunday if necessary.

BOSTON: LeBron James is tired. The young Boston Celtics seem to be getting stronger.
Rookie Jayson Tatum scored 24 points — his ninth 20-point game of the postseason — and Boston beat Cleveland 96-83 on Wednesday night to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.
The Celtics held James to two fourth-quarter points, earning their 10th straight victory in Boston to remain perfect at home this postseason and move within one win of their first trip to the NBA Finals since 2010.
“I just enjoy playing in the big moments, in the big games. That’s when I have the most fun,” said Tatum, who needs one more 20-point game to tie Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s rookie record of 10 in a postseason.
“I can’t say it enough: We’re one win away from being in the finals,” Tatum said. “The playoffs bring the best out of people.”
Game 6 is in Cleveland on Friday night, with the decisive seventh game back in Boston on Sunday if necessary. The home team has won every game so far in the series, and none has been closer than nine points.
“We’re looking forward to having an opportunity to force a Game 7,” said James, who had 26 points and 10 rebounds but also had six turnovers. “It’s up to us to see if we can come back here for one more.”
Al Horford had 15 points and 12 rebounds, and 21-year-old Jaylen Brown had 17 points for Boston. Tatum added seven rebounds, four assists and four steals one day after finishing a single vote shy of a unanimous selection to the NBA’s All-Rookie team.
“The sky’s the limit” for Tatum , Brown said. “He’s going to continue to get better. He’s my workout partner. I expect it in myself and I expect it in him.”
Kevin Love scored 14 points for the Cavaliers, who are trying to reach the finals for the fourth consecutive season. James has played to the end in seven straight seasons.
To extend that streak, he’ll need to win two in a row.
One of them will be in Boston.
“Our focus — LeBron’s focus — is to win,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “That’s the only thing that matters.”
The Celtics opened a double-digit lead in the first quarter and nursed it the rest of the way, holding on through a four-minute scoring drought that saw Cleveland score nine straight points to cut the deficit to 83-71. But Terry Rozier hit Horford with an alley-oop to snap the skid, and that was as close as the Cavs would get.
Reserves Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart each scored 13.

FADING STAR
James had one basket on four shots in the fourth quarter, and afterward conceded that he was worn down. He finished 1 for 6 from 3-point range in the game; the Cavaliers made just 9 of 34 attempts from beyond the arc and shot just 42 percent overall.
“I had my moments, but I think everybody at this point is tired, worn down whatever the case may be,” he said. “I was still trying to make plays, put our team in position to win.”

GOONING IT UP
Boston went on a 15-3 run in the first quarter to turn a three-point deficit into a nine-point lead. The Celtics scored nine in a row at the end of the first quarter and into the second to take a 36-19 lead, their biggest of the game.
That’s when the Cavaliers fought back .
After a hard defensive play by Morris sent Larry Nance Jr. into the first row of seats, Morris appeared to wander over and say something. Nance to jump up and body checked him; Morris responded with a one-handed shove to the face.
Aron Baynes and Brown came in to break it up, and Terry Rozier put a body on Nance. After a review, the referees called technicals on Rozier, Nance and Morris. Kyle Korver made the foul shot to make it 36-20 and Cleveland went on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to eight points, 36-28.
But Morris made a long 3-pointer to stop the scoring drought, and soon hit another to cap an 8-2 run that made it a double-digit lead.
Smart said the Celtics wanted to more aggressive at home.
“At their place, they were the aggressor,” he said. “That showed and they came up with the victory. We just wanted to be that team tonight.”

TIP-INS
Teams that win Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven series win 83 percent of the time. ... James had 16 points, four rebounds and three assists at the half. Tatum had 13 points, and Horford had 10 points and seven boards at the break. ... Baynes made his first start of the series, subbing for Morris. ... It took until midway through the third quarter for a Cavs starter other than James or Love to make a basket. J.R. Smith sank a floater to make it 63-50, and George Hill followed with a jumper of his own. ... The Celtics were 10-0 in the playoffs at home in 1986. ... Horford had his 7th double-double of the postseason, matching a career high he set in 2015.