Juan Antonio Pizzi and Saudi Arabia have work to do before World Cup opener

Salem Al-Dawsari looked in fine form during his side's 2-0 win against Greece.
Updated 17 May 2018
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Juan Antonio Pizzi and Saudi Arabia have work to do before World Cup opener

  • Tuesday's victory over Greece was the Green Falcons' third in six matches under Pizzi.
  • Saudi Arabia dominated possession but Greece had more shots on goal.

SEVILLE: The tackle was late and the decision correct, but the dismissal of Greece defender Dimitrios Giannoulis in Tuesday night’s friendly with Saudi Arabia hurt both teams. The Europeans, down to 10 men and fielding an experimental side, tired quickly and showed little ambition going forward. Meanwhile, the Green Falcons, keen to gauge their level ahead of the World Cup, ended up playing in a manner that looked like a low-intensity training session.
When Salman Al-Dawsari opened the scoring midway through the first half, the match was nicely poised. Juan Antonio Pizzi’s men were controlling possession but had to work hard to fashion any sort of opportunity in the final third. Al-Dawsari, a peripheral figure in the victory over Algeria last week, was playing like his seat on the flight to Russia depended on it.
He harried and hustled, showing a determination unseen in recent weeks. He drove through the center at pace, skipping past defenders. He chased down every loose ball. And his reluctance to let Greece settle helped spark the move that led to the red card. It was the type of first-half performance Pizzi demands — intensity, desire and attacking intent — but after the sending off, Saudi Arabia relaxed, with Al-Dawsari fading and the team losing its drive.
Yahya Al-Shehri was prominent, drifting in from the right, but with the match being played at a lower tempo, he too often passed sideways rather than probing the backline.
Full-back Yasser Al-Shahrani, excellent throughout, continued to find plenty of space on the left flank, yet consistently had a shortage of options in the final third.
Saudi Arabia may have dominated possession, but it was Greece who finished with both more shots at goal and more shots on target. Only the post stopped Efthimios Koulouris from equalising in the 79th minute.
Moments later, having been stirred by the scare, the Green Falcons added their second through a well-taken volley from Mohammed Kanoo. The strike was their only shot on target in the second half.
Asked by Arab News if he was disappointed by his side’s performance against 10 men, Pizzi dismissed any concerns and insisted it is often harder to play against a numerically weaker opponent who are unwilling to take risks.
“No, no, no,” he said. “We controlled possession even before the sending off, so I’m happy with the performance.”
The Argentine said he expects further improvement as the squad travels to Switzerland next week for their final phase of preparation.
“During this training camp, we were implementing our philosophy and it is a day-by-day, game-by-game process,” he said.
“The players are getting the main idea. This was our second-last training camp before the World Cup, so it was important. Now the players are getting the tactics and philosophy to improve their level of performance.”
Against Greece, it felt more like a missed opportunity to improve their confidence in front of goal. After all, there will be no more easy games for Pizzi’s side. Next up is Italy on May 28, then Peru and Germany. And then the small matter of the World Cup, starting June 14.


Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir ‘100 percent ready’ to face England, says coach

Updated 23 May 2018
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Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir ‘100 percent ready’ to face England, says coach

  • Left-armer is fit after a knee injury
  • “He’s fine, he’s ready to go,” says team coach Mickey Arthur

LONDON: Pakistan spearhead Mohammad Amir is “100 percent ready” for the first Test against England at Lord’s starting on Thursday despite a knee injury, according to team coach Mickey Arthur.
The left-arm fast bowler was seen stretching out his right knee as Pakistan beat Test debutants Ireland by five wickets during a one-off match in Malahide, Dublin concluded last week.
Pakistan bowling coach Azhar Mahmood suggested Amir had suffered a recurrence of a “chronic” problem.
But head coach Arthur, speaking to reporters at Lord’s on Tuesday, had no qualms about the fitness of Amir.
“He’s perfect, 100 percent,” Arthur insisted. “He’s fine, he’s ready to go.”
As for Amir, missing Pakistan’s final warm-up match ahead of the two-Test England series, last weekend’s drawn match against Leicestershire, Arthur added: “It was his rotation. (Mohammad) Abbas sat out the first (tour) game, Hasan (Ali) sat out the second, so he sat out the third.”
Amir was the hottest property in world cricket after bursting on the scene as a teenager in 2009 and at 18 he was the youngest bowler to have taken 50 Test wickets.
But his world was turned upside down in 2010 when he became involved in a spot-fixing scandal after deliberately bowling no-balls during the Lord’s Test against England — an incident that would eventually see him sent to prison by an English court and given a five-year ban by the International Cricket Council.
Amir’s first 14 Tests saw him take 51 wickets at just a fraction over 23 apiece, figures that had him on course to be an all-time great.
But the 17 Tests since his comeback two years ago have seen him take 49 wickets at a more expensive average of 34.91
Amir, and Pakistan for that matter, have not been helped by the fact that those 17 Tests since 2016 have also seen 16 catches dropped off his bowling.
The stigma of his spot-fixing exile has started to fade, with Amir playing for Pakistan during their 2-2 draw in a four-Test series in England two years ago.
He also starred for Essex as they won English domestic cricket’s first-class County Championship title last season.
Now the 26-year-old Amir is set to be the leader of an inexperienced Pakistan attack.
England, who didn’t manage a single win during their recent seven combined Tests in Australia and New Zealand, collapsed to 58 all out in Auckland in March as Kiwi left-arm quick Trent Boult took six wickets.
And Arthur backed Amir to do similar damage
“I think Mohammad Amir is the finest exponent of pace and swing when he gets it 100 percent right,” Arthur said.
“We’ve used that spell that Trent Boult bowled in Auckland. We’ve had a look at his lengths.
“We believe he (Amir) bowls incredibly well at left-handers and there will be three left-handers (Alastair Cook, Mark Stoneman and Dawid Malan) in the (England) top four.
“He’s ready, I just hope it goes really well for him because he’s been unlucky at times with the amount of dropped catches.
“He’s ready, he’s determined, he’s fit, he’s strong, he’s excited, he’s in a very good place at the moment.”
Arthur is unusual in having served as the head coach of three leading nations — his native South Africa, Australia and Pakistan.
But he was adamant he had no desire to replace Trevor Bayliss when the Australian steps down as England coach next year.
“No, I’m very happy,” Arthur said. “I’d like to keep going with Pakistan for as long as they will have me because it’s unfinished business for us at the moment. This is a very young cricket team and I worry if we move on what happens to these guys. Their fitness regime is outstanding, they are training hard and they are enjoying their cricket. I’m very, very happy with where I am at the moment,” he insisted.