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 Arabia to face Japan in Asian Cup second round after defeat to Qatar

Updated 17 January 2019
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Saudi Arabia to face Japan in Asian Cup second round after defeat to Qatar

  • A double from Almoez Ali means Qatar top Group E.
  • Juan Antonio Pizzi's men now face Japan in second round on Monday.

LONDON: Saudi Arabia now know they will have to overcome Japan in the second round if they are to keep their hopes of a fourth Asian Cup title alive. 

A 2-0 defeat at the hands of Qatar meant Juan Antonio Pizzi’s men finished second in Group E — both sides went into the top-of-the-table clash knowing they had already secured a spot in the knockout stages. 

A brace from Almoez Ali in Abu Dhabi was enough to give Qatar the three points and leave them top of the group. 

From the kick-off the Green Falcons were the ones who looked the more likely to make the initial breakthrough —  Fahad Almuwallad slamming a right-foot shot against the post after 22 minutes.

Qatar captain Hasan Al-Haydos then missed a penalty in the 42nd minute after Ali had been clattered in the box.

But Ali, who scored four goals in Qatar's 6-0 rout of North Korea last weekend, made no mistake in first-half stoppage time.

He calmly slotted the ball past Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais to become the first player to score six goals in a single Asian Cup since South Korea's Lee Dong-gook in 2000.

Ali subsequently headed in a seventh goal of the tournament 10 minutes from time, celebrating with a jig of delight.

While the defeat was not ideal Green Falcons coach Pizzi said he was still hopeful Saudi Arabia would be able to go far in the tournament. 

"It was an intense game but we have to hide our feelings and prepare for the last 16," Pizzi said.

"We were missing quality in the final third and individual errors have cost us," he added.

"But we will bounce back. I respect every team left in the competition, including Japan, but I don't feel that we are inferior to them in any way."

Qatar, who have never gone beyond the quarterfinals, advance to face Iraq in the last 16.