Green Falcons not to be underestimated at the World Cup: Ukraine’s Andrey Shevchenko

Ukraine coach Andrey Shevchenko has suggested Russian hearts could be broken by Saudi Arabia at the World Cup. (AFP)
Updated 25 March 2018
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Green Falcons not to be underestimated at the World Cup: Ukraine’s Andrey Shevchenko

MARBELLA: Ukraine coach Andrey Shevchenko, fresh from watching his side fail to beat Saudi Arabia, has suggested Russian hearts could be broken by the Kingdom’s Green Falcons at the opening night of the FIFA World Cup in Moscow.
Given the frosty relations between the two Eastern European nations, such a belief should be of little surprise. Yet Shevchenko was speaking pragmatically rather than patriotically after witnessing his team labor to a draw with Juan Antonio Pizzi’s rapidly improving Saudi side on Friday night.
Ukraine, ranked 35th in Fifa’s world rankings, are positioned 28 places above Russia, and showed their superiority in spells against Pizzi’s men during an entertaining 1-1 draw in rain-swept Marbella. Artem Kravets opened the scoring with a free header after 32 minutes for Ukraine, but Saudi rallied, quickly equalized through Fahad Al-Muwallad, and for long periods of the second-half were the better side.
The Green Falcons, who at 69 in the rankings are the lowest-placed nation at the 32-team tournament, could even have sneaked a win were it not for lack of composure in front of goal.
Shevchenko, while reluctant to focus too much on the opposition, said he was impressed by the intensity and style in which Pizzi has Saudi playing and believes a Russian win inside the Luzhniki Stadium on June 14 is no certainty.
“I don’t have to think about what will happen at the World Cup because we are not playing there,” said Shevchenko, whose side narrowly finished third in qualifying behind Iceland and Croatia. “We had enough chances to win this game, especially in the first half, but in the second half, we did not have the control that we demand of the players. Credit to our opponent.
“I liked how Saudi played: They were very compact, they tried to press; they have some very good players; and I think Saudi Arabia have a good chance [against Russia].”
Before the match, Shevchenko had spoken to his former national team strike partner Sergei Rebrov, who is now head coach of Al Ahli in Jeddah, in a quest to gain some insight into the opposition. Rebrov had warned of the Saudi national team’s pace and technical capacities.
“I was talking to Sergei about Saudi Arabia’s players and what to expect,” Shevchenko said. “He told me they are quick, technical and try to control the play. And he was right. I was not surprised. But we had enough chances to win this game. We should have closed it out in the first half. After we scored, we had two or three chances, then they scored from a corner and we lost control a little.”
Pizzi and Saudi will be hoping to continue their upward trajectory when they face Roberto Martinez’s Belgium on Tuesday night in Brussels. While victory would be little short of incredible for an inexperienced squad short on match-fitness and shorn of star playmaker Nawaf Al-Abed, a draw would ensure Shevchenko is joined by several more admirers pondering whether Russia’s long-awaited curtain-raiser could quickly turn into a nightmare for the hosts.


Arsenal open US tour with 3-0 friendly win in Colorado

Updated 16 July 2019
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Arsenal open US tour with 3-0 friendly win in Colorado

LOS ANGELES: Brazilian Gabriel Martinelli scored in his Arsenal debut Monday as the English Premier League club launched their pre-season tour of the US with a 3-0 friendly win over the Colorado Rapids.

Bukayo Saka and James Olayinka also scored for the Gunners, who cruised to victory at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in suburban Denver.

Martinelli, the 18-year-old forward signed from Ituano on July 2, was given a surprise start in attack by Unai Emery and sent an early chance wide.

Saka, 17, was an energetic presence and put Arsenal up 1-0 in the 13th minute as he collected a through-ball from Eddie Nketiah.

Another teenager — 18-year-old Olayinka —  doubled the score in the 29th, seizing a stray pass from defense and racing in to fire into the top left corner of the net.

Martinelli, having missed his early chance, capped the scoring in the 61st when he slotted home a cross from close range.

The Rapids, in the midst of the Major League Soccer season, fielded a mostly reserve side that featured several players from the lower-rung Colorado Springs Switchbacks.

Arsenal, too, started a reserve team as they begin their build up to the Premier League season after again failing to secure a Champions League berth.

The tour has not started without controversy. Captain Laurent Koscielny refused to travel to the US, and a group of influential Arsenal supporters’ organizations published a statement on Monday hitting out at Stan Kroenke’s “passive ownership.”

Under a hashtag “WeCareDo You” the statement decried a “soulless” atmosphere at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium and a lack of transfer strategy.

Kroenke, who began investing in the club in 2007 through his company Kroenke Sports Enterprises and took full ownership in 2018, also owns the Rapids as well as the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams.