‘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.”


FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: A classic clash, sublime New Orleans Saints and a bad break for Alex Smith

Updated 20 November 2018
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FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: A classic clash, sublime New Orleans Saints and a bad break for Alex Smith

  • Saints once again show why they are serious Super Bowl contenders.
  • Unlucky Alex Smith suffers a horror injury.

LONDON: This is the time of year that can either make or break a team’s regular season. Are they headed for the playoffs or are they set to be on holiday in January? Here is what we learned after week 11 of the NFL.

RAMS AND CHIEFS SERVE UP A CLASSIC

Where to start analyzing Monday night’s epic in Los Angeles? It was certainly one of the best games of gridiron I have ever seen. From the first kick-off to the final seconds, both sides threw caution to the wind, with the Rams winning by three points in a 54-51 nail-biter — on the way to producing a classic clash that will still be talked about for years to come. 
American Football is often criticized for being too “stop-start,” but watching these two Super Bowl favorites go hammer and tongs for four quarters would have been enough to convert any detractor.
To put into context just how explosive both teams were, it was the first time two teams have scored more than 50 points in a match in the history of the NFL.
While many are praising the defensive qualities of a playoffs-bound Chicago, we are just glad the defensive units did not bother showing up for this one and we had the privilege of watching two blistering offenses in full flow. If either of these teams goes on to win the Super Bowl, they can pinpoint this match as one of the key moments of their season.

It was raining touchdowns in the all-time classic between the Chiefs and the Rams.



SAINTS CHANNELLING THE SPIRIT OF 2009

When the league fixtures were announced in the summer, the Saints-Eagles match-up was singled out as a test of the two team’s NFC championship credentials. Unlike the Rams and Chiefs extravaganza, though, this ended up being a damp squib of a game. 
Philadelphia just did not turn up, while the Saints — the hottest team in the league at the moment — were imperiously led by Drew Brees to a blowout 48-7 win, which now sits in the record books as worst defeat in the Eagles’ history. 
Brees threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns, meaning that the 9-1 Saints have now scored 40-plus points in three matches in a row and have become the first team in the Super Bowl era to post at least 40 points six times in the first 10 games of the season. It will take a very good team to stop this Saints side from claiming glory in Atlanta next February.

Drew Brees was once again in imperious form for the ever-improving and dangerous Saints. 



PURE ATHLETICISM TRUMPS TACTICAL PLAY-CALLS

Gridiron is an extremely technical and tactical sport, with coaches and players spending weeks perfecting certain plays. But sometimes a moment of sheer athletic prowess wins out and blows all the spreadsheets and playbook analysis out the window. Week 11 saw its fair share of brilliant moments — from Kenny Golladay’s sublime touchdown catch for the Lions against Carolina, to Juju Smith-Schuster’s unbelievable grab for the Steelers on a late, game-winning drive, not forgetting Odell Beckham’s strength to hold on in the end-zone for a Giants score against Tampa Bay. And those moments are exactly why millions of people tune in to the NFL every week.

Kenny Golladay with his moment of magic during Detriot's 20-19 win over Carolina. 



THOUGHTS WITH ALEX SMITH

Much progress has been made in preventing concussion and serious head injuries in the NFL in recent years. Rule changes and safety measures have been implemented, and we are beginning to see a reduction in the number of head and neck traumas. But in sport, horror injuries can happen — and there is little the league can do to prevent the kind of leg breaks Washington’s Alex Smith suffered during their game against the Texans. Everyone watching immediately knew the severity of the break, and it is clear Smith faces a lengthy recovery. Such injuries can end careers. Here’s hoping he makes it back.

Alex Smith being stretchered off after his horror injury suffered against the Texans.