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.


Bert Van Marwijk only has one thing on his mind: getting the UAE to the 2022 World Cup

Updated 21 March 2019
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Bert Van Marwijk only has one thing on his mind: getting the UAE to the 2022 World Cup

  • Former Saudi Arabia coach wants to guide the Whites to their first World Cup since 1990.
  • "If I didn’t see the potential, I wouldn’t sit here," Dutchman says of his new job.

LONDON: Bert van Marwijk has told the UAE he only has one thing on his mind: Getting the side to the 2022 World Cup. 

The former Saudi Arabia boss was unveiled as the new coach of the Whites before watching his new team beat his former team 2-1 in a friendly in Dubai (see right). While he was in the stand rather than the dugout — interim boss Saleem Abdelrahman took charge — he would have liked what he saw as he set himself the challenge of leading the UAE to their first showpiece since 1990. 

“I’m here for only one thing, and that’s to qualify for the World Cup,” the Dutchman said.  

“It takes a long time and the first thing we have to deal with is the first qualification round. That’s why I’m here.”

Van Marwijk was celebrated after he led the Green Falcons to last year's World Cup before calling it quits. (AFP) 

Van Marwijk guided Saudi Arabia to last year’s World Cup — the Green Falcons’ first appearance at the showpiece for 12 years — during a two-year stint which ended in September 2017.

That was one of the key reasons the UAE fought hard for the 66-year-old and while it is never easy getting through Asian qualifying — 46 teams going for just four direct slots at Qatar 2022 — the Dutchman claimed his experience, combined with his knowledge of the UAE, will stand him in good stead. 

“The Saudis and the UAE are about the same level. With the Saudis we qualified for Russia, so we will do really everything to go to Qatar in 2022,” Van Marwijk said. 

While he is fondly remembered in the Kingdom — only a contractual dispute regarding backroom staff meant he did not stay on as Green Falcons coach for the Russia tournament — it is his time as the Netherlands coach that really stands out on his managerial resume. Van Marwijk coached the Oranje to within minutes of the World Cup trophy, with only an Andres Iniesta extra-time winner preventing him from tasting ultimate glory against Spain in 2010. 

So why did he return to the Gulf for another crack at World Cup qualification in a tough, crowded race? 

“One of the reasons is the feeling. I have to have the right feeling when I sign a contract,” Van Marwijk said. “We analyzed the UAE, we played four times against each other with Saudi, so I can see the potential.

“I have had the experience to go to the World Cup twice. The first time we were second in the world, the second time was with Australia (which he coached last summer) and we were a little bit unlucky — we played very well. 

“So to go to the World Cup for the third time is the goal.”

Van Marwijk is all too aware his task will be difficult. The “Golden Generation” of Emirati footballers, spearheaded by Omar Abdulrahman, tried and failed to make it to football’s biggest tournament, and a lot of the next three years’ work will likely depend on a new generation.

“I heard there were some young talents, so I’m anxious to know how good they are,” the Dutchman said. “I know the team has a few very good players — the UAE has a few weapons. 

“That’s the most important thing. If I didn’t see the potential, I wouldn’t sit here.”