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

Updated 10 May 2018

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.

Maria Sharapova looks back to her best as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal show no signs of slowing down

Updated 18 January 2019

Maria Sharapova looks back to her best as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal show no signs of slowing down

  • Sharapova dumps out defending champion Caroline Wozniacki.
  • Rafa and Roger brush aside young guns in straight sets victories.

LONDON: It is coming up to the end of the first week of the Australian Open, so we thought we would take a look and see how some of the big names fared on day five of the year’s first Grand Slam.


Maria Sharapova warned she is in the sort of form to win the Australian Open after she dumped Carolina Wozniacki out with an impressive 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win. It was the Russian’s best win since her return from a drugs ban and she looked like a winner-in-waiting.
“I thought the level was quite high. I knew I’d get a tough match — she (Wozniacki) is the defending champion,” the five-time Slam champion said.
“I haven’t played many matches in the last year against top players so it was really rewarding to win that last set. These are the kinds of matches I train for.”


Ageless Roger Federer marked his 100th Rod Laver Arena match Friday by storming past Taylor Fritz, then looked forward to a “high quality” last-16 clash against another young gun, Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion continued his quest for a record seventh Australian Open title with a 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 third-round demolition of 21-year-old American Fritz in just 88 minutes of flawless tennis.
Next up is 14th seed Tsitsipas. And the 37-year-old Federer is looking forward to taking on the fiery young Greek, who is 17 years his junior.
Federer played him in the recent mixed teams Hopman Cup, winning a closely contested singles 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/4), and said he was impressed.
“I think he played really well there. I actually did too. I thought it was really high quality tennis,” Federer said.
“This is obviously a different type of match, it being best of five, it being a fourth round of a Slam.”


Rafael Nadal declared “everything is a step forward” after brutally brushing aside Alex de Minaur at the Australian Open Friday in just the Spaniard’s third match since the US Open.
The world No. 2 was in ominous form as he continued his quest for an 18th Grand Slam by punishing the Australian teenager in a third-round tennis masterclass 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
“In general terms, everything is a step forward. So that’s positive news for me,” said the man who won the Aussie Open in 2009.
“I’m very happy for the victory against someone who had won seven matches in a row, winning a tournament.”
On his fitness Nadal added: “Probably 10 years ago it would have been difficult not playing much tennis in the build-up but now I have been in this situation many times with the injuries I have had.
“I have to deal with the ups and downs of my body but I try to enjoy any moment on the court.”


The former US Open champions was made to work for his place in the last 16 as he struggled to beat Fernando Verdasco 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6, 6-3. Verdasco showed glimpses of the form that once made him a top-10 player and had a match point, one he frittered away with a double fault.
I was just slightly luckier in those crucial moments,” the sixth-seeded Cilic said.
“(It is) unbelievable. Emotions were up and down,” Cilic said.
“When I was down two sets to none, it was a big hill to climb.”
It’s the seventh time in Cilic’s career that he has emerged to win a match after dropping the opening two sets.


Second seed Kerber received a gift ride into the Australian Open fourth round for her 31st birthday when she overpowered local wildcard Kimberly Birrell 6-1, 6-0.
The Wimbledon champion swept world No. 240 Birrell aside in just 58 minutes to set up a last-16 clash with unseeded American Danielle Collins.
Kerber, a winner at Melbourne Park in 2016, said she was used to celebrating her birthday on the road at the season-opening Grand Slam.
“I think it’s the 12th time in a row,” she said. “I’m getting older but I have the best time here and I’ll never forget my birthdays here in Australia.”
Kerber reached the semifinals last year but lost to Simona Halep in a tight three-setter.