Greece boss Michael Skibbe predicts World Cup woe for Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia defender Yasser Al-Shahrani fights for the ball with Greece's Dimitrios Limnios.
Updated 17 May 2018

Greece boss Michael Skibbe predicts World Cup woe for Saudi Arabia

  • Greece coach admitted Green Falcons were the better side in 2-0 defeat on Tuesday.
  • However Skibbe was not surprised about the lack of chances Pizzi's men failed to create.

SEVILLE: Greece coach Michael Skibbe believes Saudi Arabia are not good enough to progress to the knock-out stages of next month’s World Cup, despite the Green Falcons having beaten his side in a friendly earlier this week.
Saudi Arabia defeated Skibbe’s Greece 2-0 in Seville on Tuesday as their preparations for this summer’s football showpiece continue. Juan Antonio Pizzi’s men will face Russia in the tournament’s opening match on June 14, before then playing against Uruguay and Egypt for a place in the second round. Skibbe’s side, in contrast, failed to qualify for the World Cup after losing a European playoff to Croatia last November.
With the Saudi Arabia friendly not falling on an official FIFA match-day, Skibbe was forced to field an experimental team free of overseas players. Nonetheless, they held their own for much of the opening exchanges. Even after allowing Salem Al-Dawsari to open the scoring midway through the first half, Anastasios Bakasetas almost drew them level with a free kick that hit the post.
Greece’s task, however, was made more difficult when defender Dimitrios Giannoulis was sent off just before halftime. Saudi Arabia asserted authority with an extra player and Mohammed Kanoo scored the side’s second 11 minutes from time, but even then the goal came just moments after Efthimios Koulouris had rattled the upright once again, against the run of play.
“Saudi Arabia showed they are in a better shape than we are,” Skibbe told Arab News.
“They are obviously working toward the World Cup, which starts in only a few weeks, while a lot of my players came here after a one-week break — because the Greek season finished last week. All our players from abroad were missing, too, as they were playing with their clubs, so it is quite difficult to gauge levels.
“But Saudi Arabia did well and were the better team. They were excellent with the ball, showed good technique and are a little bit fitter than my team. That said, I think we were unlucky with the red card and hitting the post twice. It was possible that we could have gotten a different result, but Saudi Arabia won because they were better overall. They deserved it.”
In March, Greece defeated Egypt 1-0 in a friendly, so 52-year-old Skibbe is well-placed to draw comparisons between the two Group A rivals. And despite the results of the two games, the former German national team assistant favors the North Africans.
“I think the Egyptian team is better and has faster players,” Skibbe said. “(Mohamed) Salah is in an unbelievable moment right now, doing excellent with Liverpool, so I think Egypt is better. It will not be easy for Saudi Arabia to be competitive in the tournament because there are a lot of good teams that will star there. For this reason, at this moment, I can’t see them progressing from their group.”
While Skibbe’s comments may seem pragmatic given Salah has scored 44 goals in all competitions for club and country this season, he was more blunt in his assessment of Saudi Arabia’s inability to capitalize on their numerical advantage after the break. Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side played against 10 men for 45 minutes, yet while they finished the match with 63 percent possession they managed only two shots on target, one fewer than their opponents.
Asked whether he was surprised Saudi Arabia failed to test his goalkeeper more given their dominance in possession, Skibbe was frank with his response. “Not really, no,” he said. “Even in the first half, we made mistakes with our passing, which afforded them some chances but they didn’t take them. So, no, I think it was not too surprising.”

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

Updated 20 March 2019

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.


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.


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.


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.