‘Saudi Arabia have the players to stop Mohamed Salah,’ says Green Falcons coach

Mohamed Salah is in red hot form heading into the World Cup. (Reuters)
Updated 09 May 2018
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‘Saudi Arabia have the players to stop Mohamed Salah,’ says Green Falcons coach

  • Saudi meet Egypt in Russia on June 25
  • Coach Pizzi believes his defenders can shackle the prolific forward

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi has insisted his players are capable of taming Egypt superstar Mohamed Salah when the two sides do battle at the World Cup.
Salah has enjoyed a remarkable debut season at Liverpool, with his 43 goals in 49 games for the Reds leading to him being named the PFA Footballer of the Year last week.
The forward has continually delivered in big matches, netting 11 times in the Champions League to fire Liverpool into this month’s final against Real Madrid.
Salah has also excelled with Egypt, finishing as top scorer in World Cup qualifying and famously keeping his cool to slot the 94th-minute penalty against Congo that secured the Pharaohs spot in Russia.
Against Portugal in March, Salah’s strike looked to have secured an impressive friendly victory until Cristiano Ronaldo struck two stoppage time goals to steal away victory.
Those performances have led to heightened expectations in Egypt ahead of the World Cup, with fans hoping that Salah can continue his talismanic form in Russia and help his nation escape from Group A.
But despite recognizing Salah’s danger, Saudi coach Pizzi believes that his team can keep the 25-year-old at bay when they face off in the final group stage match in Volgograd on June 25.
“Mohamed Salah is a very, very talented, player,” Pizzi told Arab News at the AFC Asian Cup draw in Dubai. “His level at the moment is extremely high and he is certainly one of the best players in the world right now, if not the top on his current form. But of course we believe in our players. We have some fantastic defenders and we have confidence in our team, in the skills of our players. There will be no special plans for Salah but for sure we have the players who can stop him. We expect a good performance against Egypt; we expect a good performance in all of our group games.”
Keeping Salah quiet will be an uphill task for a Saudi defense that conceded four against world-class opposition in its last friendly outing. Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku scored twice as Belgium put the Green Falcons to the sword with a 4-0 victory.
Pizzi’s side also shipped four goals in a 4-1 defeat to Iraq in February but there are still five friendly matches to play — against Algeria, Greece, Italy, Peru and Germany — before the World Cup, with defensive solidity imperative if Saudi Arabia are to reach the last-16.
Before they face Salah’s Egypt in their final World Cup group game, the Green Falcons take on Uruguay and, first, hosts Russia in the tournament’s curtain raiser on June 14.
And while Pizzi has analyzed all of Saudi Arabia’s group opponents carefully, the Argentine insisted is not looking further than that opening clash with Russia in Moscow.
“Our plan is working very well for the World Cup,” Pizzi said. “All of the training camps have gone very well and the players understand very well what we are trying to do. Our focus is totally on the first game against Russia. The players are working very hard toward that match.”


Mahrez and Mane duel in rematch for Africa Cup of Nations glory

Updated 8 min 45 sec ago
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Mahrez and Mane duel in rematch for Africa Cup of Nations glory

  • Algerian star Mahrez was part of the Manchester City team that edged out Mane’s Liverpool for the English title last season
CAIRO: Riyad Mahrez and Sadio Mane will renew their Premier League rivalry for a second time in Egypt, with Africa Cup of Nations immortality awaiting the victor of Friday’s final between Algeria and Senegal.
Algerian star Mahrez was part of the Manchester City team that edged out Mane’s Liverpool for the English title last season, grabbing a pivotal goal on the final day of the campaign.
Liverpool standout Mane, however, is attempting to fulfill his “wildest dream” as one of just a handful of Africans to win both the UEFA Champions League and Cup of Nations.
For the marquee name in a Senegalese side ranked top of the continent, and a surprising 46 places above Algeria, the ride to the final for Mane and the Teranga Lions has encountered its share of roadbumps.
Two missed Mane spot-kicks, a group stage loss to Algeria, and the loss of goalkeeper Edouard Mendy to a broken finger have tested Senegal’s resolve in their quest for the Holy Grail of African football.
Coach Aliou Cisse is on a mission for personal redemption. He was the skipper of the side beaten on penalties in the 2002 final, with his missed kick handing the title to Cameroon.
“Having lost that final, I still have it on my mind,” said former Paris Saint-Germain and Birmingham City midfielder Cisse.
“What motivated me to become a coach was to be able to take Senegal to the final. My players told me they would do better than my generation.”
A maiden Cup of Nations for his country is a prize for which Mane readily admitted he would trade in last month’s Champions League title.
“I’m ready to even swap a Champions League for a Cup of Nations. Going to Dakar with the trophy would be extraordinary. It would be my wildest dream,” Mane told France Football ahead of the competition.
Standing in the way, however, is an Algerian outfit that has undergone a remarkable transformation since the arrival of Djamel Belmadi as coach a year ago.
The Desert Foxes failed miserably in World Cup qualifying, but the steely Belmadi has healed divisions in the squad to lead them to the brink of a first Cup of Nations triumph since 1990.
“To the Algerian people, I want to say I’m not a politician, not a miracle worker or a wizard, but that we will fight like we have fought to this point,” Belmadi said after the semifinal win over Nigeria.
Algeria are the leading scorers in Egypt with 12 goals, including Mahrez’s spectacular last-gasp free-kick against Nigeria, and haven’t trailed at all in the tournament.
“Algeria are so well organized, so compact, so ‘Guardiolaesque’ in the way they recover the ball,” opined experienced international coach Claude Le Roy. “Perhaps it is the influence of Mahrez.”
The Algeria captain has been in fine form for his country here, brimming with confidence after helping City to the domestic treble.
“We are very happy to be in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations because it is something very special,” said Mahrez.
“It was our goal to do it for the people and for our families. We know they are behind us all the way. It’s my dream to win the Cup of Nations.”
“It’s going to be another battle against Senegal,” he added. “We’ve been very good in this competition. The (Nigeria) match has given us more confidence for the final and we’re capable of winning it.”
Their hopes will boosted by the absence of Senegal’s defensive rock Kalidou Koulibaly, whose yellow card in the semifinal victory over Tunisia cruelly ruled the Napoli star out of the final.
“It hurts to not be able to play. But I will be beside my brothers to write history,” tweeted Koulibaly, the cornerstone of a defense breached just once so far.