Saudi Arabia coach Pizzi believes Green Falcons are ‘improving day by day’ ahead of World Cup

Updated 10 May 2018
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Saudi Arabia coach Pizzi believes Green Falcons are ‘improving day by day’ ahead of World Cup

  • Goals from Salman Al-Faraj and Yahya Al-Shehri hand Pizzi his second win as coach
  • Saudi enjoyed 63 percent possession, but only manage two shots on target

CADIZ: Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi insists that while he has full respect for Algeria, he was not surprised by his side’s 2-0 win on Wednesday night, adding that further improvement is essential if his Green Falcons are to leave their mark at next month’s Fifa World Cup.
With the friendly not marked on the official international match calendar, the Green Falcons faced an Algeria side that consisted of only home-based players. Instead of the likes of Riyad Mahrez, Yacine Brahimi, and Islam Slimani, the African side’s coach Rabah Madjer selected a largely experimental team that had trained together for only three days.
Algeria, who reached the knock-out stages of the 2014 World Cup, were selected by Pizzi as preparation for his side’s Group A clash with Egypt on June 25. Yet while Egypt finished top of their 2018 qualifying group, Algeria slumped, failing to win a single match in six against Nigeria, Zambia and Cameroon. They were later handed three points when Nigeria were deemed to have fielded an ineligible player, but the Desert Foxes stayed rooted to the bottom of their group.
It is with this context that Pizzi, inside the Estadio Ramón de Carranza in southern Spain, conceded post-match that he had expected victory. And while goals from Salman Al-Faraj and Yahya Al-Shehri ensured the Argentine head coach left content, it could have — and should have — been more comfortable than it was.
“We are improving day after day,” Pizzi told reporters. “We have a lot of confidence in our squad, it’s a good group and each player has their own individual qualities.
“For me, whether the opposition players are first team or second choice, I don’t care. They are footballers representing their country, so it shouldn’t matter. We respect all our opponents and that, for sure, includes Algeria. Yet for me, both the level of the performance and the result is logical. Now we must continue to keep improving.”
Saudi enjoyed 63 percent possession, but they only managed two shots on target, floundering a host of chances, particularly in the second half. Salem Al-Dawsari, Mohamed Al-Sahlawi and Al-Faraj all missed decent chances, while Hattan Bahberi will be keen to forget how he failed to finish from close-range before the linesman raised his flag to call him offside.
“The first part of the game, Algeria were the better side. They had more control over the game, but when we scored the first goal, it gave us more confidence, and allowed us to play more calmly,” Pizzi added. “You saw that in the second half. We started better, played with more comfort, were able to control the game more, circulate the ball and create more chances. The domination of the game was ours, but of course we must be more clinical in front of goal.”
It could have been a different outcome had Algerian striker Abdennour Belkheir made more of an early chance gifted to him when Saeed Al-Mowallad was caught ball-watching in the penalty area. As a deep cross came in from the flank, the Al-Ahli right-back stood stationary preparing to clear, failing to notice Belkheir sneaking in to plant a firm header toward goal. Fortunately for Al-Mowallad it was off-target.
“It was a good game generally,” said Al-Mowallad, who was replaced by Mohammed Al-Burayk with five minutes remaining. “To feel what it is like to win again, for us players, is always important. It gives us more confidence and motivation to do better in the next game. Coach Pizzi has been with us for five games now and I think, while we still must improve, we are starting to see the benefits of working with him.”
Pizzi and his squad have returned to their training base in Marbella for the remainder of the week. On Sunday, they will relocate to Sevilla to prepare for another friendly match, against Greece Tuesday. By that time Pizzi will have named his provisional 35-man World Cup squad and it will be less than one month until his side’s curtain-raiser against Russia in Moscow.


Dutch cap Europe’s World Cup dominance by ousting Japan

Updated 26 June 2019
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Dutch cap Europe’s World Cup dominance by ousting Japan

  • The reigning European champions will need to maintain that composure as they prepare for a meeting with Italy

RENNES, France: Tears were still flowing from Saki Kumagai’s eyes more than 30 minutes later.
With victorious Dutch rivals passing her on the way out of the stadium, Japan’s captain seemed to find solace in speaking about the penalty long after it cost her team a place in the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup.
With Tuesday night’s game entering the 90th minute locked at 1-1, Kumagai’s outstretched left arm blocked the shot Vivianne Miedema had aimed into the right side of the net.
“It had my hand for sure,” Kumagai said. “It’s difficult to accept but it’s also sad. I know that is football.”
Referee Melissa Borjas pointed to the penalty spot and Lieke Martens netted her second goal of the game in the 90th minute to seal a 2-1 victory that sent the Netherlands into the quarterfinals for the first time.
“We have made history,” Martens said. “I’m not usually taking the penalties but I felt really good this game. I asked Sherida Spitse if I could take it and she gave it directly to me and I felt quite relaxed about it.”
The reigning European champions will need to maintain that composure as they prepare for a meeting with Italy on Saturday after going one stage further than their Women’s World Cup debut four years ago.
“We were standing in the circle after the match and we were so happy, yelling at each other,” Netherlands coach Sarina Wiegman said. “We were saying, ‘Let’s continue writing history.’“
It is journey’s end for Japan, which won the 2011 tournament and was the runner-up four years later.
The strength of the second-half display counted for nothing.
As befitting a meeting of the Asian and European champions, the game produced some of the slickest action of the World Cup. A backheel flick set up Martens to send the Dutch in front in the 17th minute and Yui Hasegawa equalized in the 43rd to complete a slick passing move.
But the post, crossbar and goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal thwarted Japan’s pursuit of a winning goal.
“I think we lacked the clinical edge,” Japan coach Asako Takakura said. “We have to accept the result, we’re defeated, we’re very disappointed and for all the players I feel very sorry for them and frustrated.”
With the last Asian team eliminated, the Women’s World Cup will have a record seven European teams in the quarterfinals. Norway and England meet in Le Havre on Thursday and France takes on the United States the following night. After the Netherlands plays Italy on Saturday, Germany and Sweden will meet.
“It’s really tough to be here,” Netherlands forward Miedema said. “Sometimes it kind of feels like a Euros.”
That is a title already won by this team, thanks to Miedema’s goals in the final two years ago on home soil.
The fans won’t have far to travel for the World Cup quarterfinal, with Valenciennes around two hours’ drive from the Netherlands.
It will be another chance for the orange-clad fans who danced and sang their way in a convoy to the stadium on Tuesday to stamp their mark on this tournament.
They were certainly given a game to savor, and an audacious opening goal.
Martens flicked in the opener after evading her marker to meet a corner and send the ball through the legs of Yuika Sugasawa into the net.
Sugasawa had a quick chance to tie, only to hit the post. But Japan did equalize by completing an intricate move.
Hina Sugita squared across the penalty area to Yuika Sugasawa, who passed back to Mana Iwabuchi on the edge of the penalty area. After holding off Jackie Groenen on the turn, Iwabuchi slipped the ball through to Hasegawa, who was free to delicately dink a shot over Van Veenendaal into the corner of the net.
It was some way to make the most of a first shot on target for a team that failed to score in two of its three group stage games.
But parity nearly didn’t last long.
Miedema received the ball from Shanice van de Sanden but with only Ayaka Yamashita to beat struck straight at the Japan goalkeeper.
Van Veenendaal came to the rescue of the Dutch in the second half by denying Emi Nakajima as Japan chased the winner.
“Japan is a world class team and you saw that today,” Miedema said. “In the second half you can see they have loads of quality on the pitch.”