Al-Ittihad seek to salvage their season in King's Cup final against Al-Faisaly

The fans of Al-Ittihad hope to be celebrating a ninth King's Cup success. (AFP)
Updated 13 July 2018
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Al-Ittihad seek to salvage their season in King's Cup final against Al-Faisaly

  • Jeddah giants finished a disappointing ninth in the league
  • Al-Faisaly finished three places higher and boast the coach of the year

Al-Ittihad coach Jose Luis Sierra is hoping to finish a disappointing season on a high by defeating Al-Faisaly in the King’s Cup on Saturday.
The Jeddah giants finished ninth in the 2017-18 Saudi Pro League that ended last month, but they can qualify for next year’s AFC Champions League by lifting the King’s Cup trophy for the ninth time.
Sierra knows it will not be easy against an Al-Faisaly team that finished three places higher in the league, a performance that saw opposite number Vuk Rasovic named coach of the season.
“We haven’t beaten them this season and so we will have to play with all our strength and determination,” Sierra told Saudi Arabian television. “They have a great coach in Rasovic who deserved his award.
“We have prepared well for the final and had a successful training camp in the UAE to give the players the right environment away from the pressure of the final.”
These are troubled times for the two-time champions of Asia. Unmet financial obligations to players and coaches were a major factor in the team not being granted an AFC club license needed to participate in this year’s AFC Champions League. With help from the General Sports Authority, the club is attempting to return to an even financial keel.
“We fought against tough circumstances,” said Sierra, who will welcome goalkeeper Fawaz Al-Qarni back from a national team training camp in Spain.
“We have not been able to sign players and we also lost one of the best players in the country in Fahad Al-Muwallad,” added the coach in reference to the star winger being loaned to La Liga club Levante in January. “We challenged for third place for a long time which is better than many clubs could have managed in our situation.”
Sierra refused to confirm whether he will stay for next season, adding his decision will rest on whether he will be able to strengthen the squad. “We need to end the problems that we have had this year, both on and off the pitch, and according to that I will decide whether to go or stay but if the issues continue, it will be difficult to stay.”
It is definitely the final game in charge of Faisaly for coach Rasovic, according to reports in Serbia.
The former Partizan Belgrade boss arrived in Saudi Arabia in May last year and took the club to within a point of the top four. A move to the UAE club Al-Dhafra beckons.
“We had a tough route to get to the final and we expect another tough game,” said Rasovic. “It has not been easy to prepare because the league ended in April and we have been without competitive games but we are ready.”
Despite the difference in league positions, Al-Ittihad are seen as favorites, but Rasovic has other ideas.
“We have faced Al-Ittihad three times this season, twice in the league and once in a friendly, and we have not lost, so it will not be an easy task for them to win,” he said.
“We are not afraid of Al-Ittihad. If we play to our level then we don’t need to worry about them. I am concerned only about how our players perform.”


A HAT-TRICK OF HOPES: What the UAE and Saudi Arabia should be looking for from their friendly

Updated 20 March 2019
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A HAT-TRICK OF HOPES: What the UAE and Saudi Arabia should be looking for from their friendly

  • Can the Whites and Green Falcons find the back of the net more often?
  • Both teams need to set the tone ahead of the important World Cup qualifiers.

LONDON: Ahead of Thursday’s friendly between the UAE and Saudi Arabia Arab News looks at the main priorities for both sides as they embark on their new eras after the Asian Cup and ahead of the all-important the World Cup qualifiers.

FIND THOSE SCORING BOOTS

For the past 18 months both sides have struggled for goals. Under Alberto Zaccheroni the UAE scored just 10 goals in the past nine matches — five of those coming against lowly Kyrgyzstan and India — and likewise the Green Falcons have also struggled to find the back of the net. Heading toward the World Cup qualifiers, now is the time to find those scoring boots.

PUT ON A SHOW

Both sides have technically gifted players, can keep the ball and at times trouble opposition defenses. But both have been too defensive, too safety-first and, at times, too dull. Football is supposed to be entertainment, and the friendlies ahead of the World Cup qualifiers might be no bad time to throw caution to the wind and see what the players can do in the final third.

SET THE TONE

As the modern cliche goes, a week is a long time in football. With all the sackings and player movements, it is not hard to see the kernel of truth in that overused saying. But, conversely, time can also move very fast in the “Beautiful Game.” It may be six months before the World Cup qualifiers begin, but it will be September before the coaches and players know it. Set the tone and tactics now and triumphs will be easier to come by then and, more importantly, further into the future.