‘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.”


Naomi Osaka shocked as Kristina Mladenovic downs world No. 1 in Dubai

Updated 19 February 2019
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Naomi Osaka shocked as Kristina Mladenovic downs world No. 1 in Dubai

  • It was Osaka's first match since she won the Australian Open — her second consecutive Grand Slam title.
  • World No. 67 Mladenovic lost for words after surprise win.

DUBAI: Naomi Osaka stumbled badly in her first match since winning the Australian Open as the world number one went down in a flurry of errors to exit the Dubai Championships on Tuesday.
Dubai-based Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic claimed a 6-3, 6-3 victory to reach the third round as Osaka made 25 unforced errors.
The rout, which featured seven breaks of the Osaka serve, took barely an hour, sending Mladenovic into a Wednesday contest with Carla Suarez Navarro.
“This is my home tournament, I live here,” world No. 67 Mladenovic said. “It’s great to get a win like this in front of a big crowd.
“Beating the number one is always special.”
The second set was riddled with seven consecutive breaks of serve before Mladenovic finished off the job with a winner to the empty court on match point.
Osaka stunned the tennis world last week by announcing her split from coach Sascha Bajin despite winning back-to-back Grand Slam titles at the US and Australian Opens.
She said earlier this week that she would not prioritize “success over happiness” when asked about the sacking, and she never looked like winning in Dubai as she also served five double faults.
Earlier on Tuesday, Simona Halep and Petra Kvitova both won their opening matches, while Elina Svitolina made a strong start to her bid for a third straight title.
Kvitova, the 2013 winner, recovered from losing a first-set tiebreak to defeat Katerina Siniakova 6-7 (3/7), 6-4, 6-4 and squeeze into the third round.
Halep, Dubai champion in 2015, saw off 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard 7-6 (7/4), 6-4.
The Romanian said she is still feeling the effects of her weekend final defeat in Doha by Elize Mertens.
“It was a good match because I won it. I tried to finish the points faster because I’m a little bit tired,” Halep said.
“She played well, the level was pretty good. At some points I really ran very well. I’m confident. I feel good on court even if I’m tired.”
A third former world number one also advanced as Angelique Kerber beat Dalila Jakupovic 7-6 (7/4), 6-3.
Kvitova, Wimbledon champion in 2011 and 2014, said she was unfazed about the early midday start to her match.
“I don’t really care if I play the first match,” the Australian Open runner-up said. “Now I’m done, so I have a free afternoon.
“I’m not sure what I’m pleased with... maybe with my comeback at the end.”