SEVILLE: Saudi Arabia signed off their three-week World Cup preparation camp in Spain on Tuesday night with a 2-0 friendly win over Greece, who played more than half the match with 10 men.
Goals from Salem Al-Dawsari and Mohammed Kanoo ensured a second win in six days for coach Juan Antonio Pizzi, but his team’s task was made considerably easier following the dismissal of Dimitrios Giannoulis late in the first half.
Pizzi had made three changes from the side that beat Algeria 2-0 last Wednesday with Al-Ahli goalkeeper Yasser Al-Mosailem replacing Abdullah Al-Mayouf and right back Mohammed Al-Burayk coming in for Saeed Al-Mowallad. Winger Hattan Bahberi, given his first start under Pizzi against the North Africans, dropped back to the bench in place of Yahya Al-Shehri.
Saudi started slowly, playing a high defensive line but without managing to take control of possession. Greece striker Michalis Manias beat the offside trap early on to get in front of skipper Osama Hawsawi, but the Hilal center-half recovered well and Dimitrios Pelkas’s tame shot was gathered comfortably by Al-Mosailem.
Saudi soon started to assert their authority, with full-back Yasser Al-Shahrani proving a constant outlet and Taiseer Al-Jassem and Salman Al-Faraj popping up in pockets of space across the midfield. By the 21st minute, with the help of some lackadaisical Greek defending, Pizzi’s side were ahead.
A loose ball on the edge of the European side’s penalty box was not cleared and Al-Shehri reacted quickest to knock it wide toward Al-Burayk. The right-back looped it into the penalty area toward Al-Dawsari, who rose high to cushion a header back across goal and into the far corner.
It seemed to spark Saudi, and Al-Dawsawi in particular, into life. No sooner had he played a neat one-two with Al-Shahrawi to spark an attack, he was driving with intent through the midfield, skipping past two blue shirts in the process. This was the player Saudi fans had been so keen for Villarreal to give a chance during his recent loan spell with the La Liga club.
Greece, save for a free-kick that struck Al-Mosailem’s left upright, offered little in front of goal and on the stroke of half-time, Al-Dawsari’s determination created the moment that changed the flow of the game. Having refused to give up a loose ball on the left touchline, he drove forward and switched it to Al-Sahlawi, who picked out Al-Faraj with a quick through-ball. Giannoulis, beaten for pace and desperate, scythed down the Hilal midfielder and was shown a straight red card.
With goals proving hard to come by in recent months for the Green Falcons, Pizzi will have hoped his side could capitalize on the dismissal. Yet while they unsurprisingly dominated possession, the struggle continued with only two shots on target in 90 minutes. Al-Sahlawi, whose international goal drought dates back to last June, showed naivety when he stayed on the floor with the ball still in play in the penalty box, while Al-Shehri blasted wastefully over with options in front of him.
Eventually, it was a scare at the other end that seemed to force the issue. With 10 minutes remaining, Efthimios Koulouris twisted and turned his marker before seeing his shot cannon off the near-post and from the resulting attack Saudi doubled their lead. Abdullah Otayf picked out substitute Mohammed Kanoo with his back to goal and, after taking a touch, the tall Hilal midfielder turned and volleyed powerfully into the net.
The team will now fly back to Riyadh for three days to spend time with family and friends before reconvening for a fifth and final training camp in Switzerland that will include friendlies with Italy, Peru and Germany. The World Cup kicks off on June 14.
Al-Mosailem; Hawsawi (Al-Bulaihi, 63 ), Othman, Al-Shahrani, Al-Burayk; Otayf (Al-Khaibri, 82), Al-Faraj, Al-Jassem (Kanoo, 63), Al-Dawsari, Al-Shehri; Al-Sahlawi (Al-Muwallad, 72)
Barkas (Gianniotis, 45); Giannoulis, Risvanis, Nikolaou, Bakakis; Tachtsidis, Pelkas (Mantalos, 60), Tziolis (Androutsos, ), Manias (Koulouris, 60); Bakasetas, Limnios ( Lampropoulos, 45)