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.”


Saudi football chief quits, eyes Asia’s top job

Updated 18 August 2018
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Saudi football chief quits, eyes Asia’s top job

RIYADH: Saudi Football Federation chief Adel Ezzat resigned on Saturday, expressing his intention to run for the presidency of the Asian Football Confederation.
“I presented to (Saudi sports authority chief) Turki Al-Sheikh... my resignation from my position as of today,” Ezzat told a Saudi sports broadcaster.
“I will begin preparing... for elections of the Asian Football Confederation, which will be held next year.”
Ezzat’s deputy Nawaf Al-Timyat has been named the Saudi federation’s interim chief until fresh elections are held.
Ezzat was last week elected as the first president of the South West Asian Football Federation, a new regional bloc of federations comprising 14 nations.
The kingdom has long been a marginal player in football’s ruling classes, unlike its Gulf rival Qatar — set to host the 2022 World Cup — with which it is embroiled in a year-long diplomatic spat.
But the oil-rich kingdom is in the midst of a major push for global influence in football governance.