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.


‘My feelings? Mixed’: Sebastian Vettel clings on in desperate Lewis Hamilton pursuit as Kimi Raikonnen wins US Grand Prix

Updated 22 October 2018
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‘My feelings? Mixed’: Sebastian Vettel clings on in desperate Lewis Hamilton pursuit as Kimi Raikonnen wins US Grand Prix

AUSTIN: Sebastian Vettel said he felt mixed emotions after keeping his slender title challenge alive by finishing fourth in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix, won by Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
The four-time champion, who started fifth on the grid after taking a three-place penalty, recovered from an opening lap spin to fight through the field in a tactical contest that left Lewis Hamilton frustrated in his bid to clinch his fifth drivers world title.
“My feelings? Mixed,” he said. “Happy. Really happy for Kimi. But not much for me. It should have been a better day.”
Vettel can only stop Hamilton taking his fifth drivers title next weekend in Mexico by winning the race and hoping Hamilton hits problems that keep him out of the top seven places.
He said he suffered a major blow when he clashed with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo on the opening lap.
“I must have been in his blind spot. I’m not sure he saw me. The corner kept tightening and we hit. It was a big loss for me.”
Vettel’s disappointment took nothing away from a resurgent Ferrari’s satisfaction in recovering their mid-season pace, after abandoning several recent upgrades, and claiming a revitalising victory.
“I am very proud of them all,” said Ferrari team chief Maurizio Arrivabene.
“I was always proud of the guys and even more when we are winning races. It’s been hard for us recently and we had a race engineer pass away last weekend.... I have nothing more to add. It was great today. Thank you USA!“
Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff admitted that Ferrari had been faster than his team, as he had feared.
“We lacked the pace and I said don’t close it too early. They are very fast. Kimi winning is great for him and for Ferrari, so let’s go to the next race in Mexico now.
“It was difficult to overtake, but for us it was a strategy that got worse as it progressed. We need to re-think and see what we can do better. We put on a good show altogether and that’s what’s more important.”