Saudi Arabia step up their World Cup preparations by flying to Switzerland for training camp

Juan Antonio Pizzi will get to spend the next three weeks with his players at a camp in Switzerland. (Reuters)
Updated 29 May 2018

Saudi Arabia step up their World Cup preparations by flying to Switzerland for training camp

  • Squad of 28 to be based in Zurich
  • Friendlies on the horizon against Italy and Peru

Juan Antonio Pizzi has taken a 28-man squad to Zurich for the final stage of the Green Falcons’ World Cup preparations.
The party flew out of Jeddah late last night and landed in Switzerland early this morning. There they will be joined by Fahad Al-Muwallad and Salem Al-Dawsari who will fly in from Spain after playing for Levante and Villarreal on Saturday night.
The three-week training camp in the Swiss resort town of Bad Ragaz gives Pizzi the chance to get stuck into some intense tactical and physical work with his players and decide which five players to leave out of his squad. He must whittle down his list down to 23 by June 4, which gives the players get two final chances to stake their claim for a seat on the plane in friendlies against Italy on May 28 and Peru on June 3. By the time they play Germany in Leverkusen on June 8, Pizzi will have named his party for the assignment in Russia.
Pizzi is clearly much nearer knowing who he will take as he has only made minor changes to the squad he named for the recent wins against Greece and Algeria.
Al-Ittihad goalkeeper Assaf Al-Qarni replaces his club teammate Fawaz Al-Qarni as the fourth stopper in the squad, as Pizzi looks settled on retaining Al-Ahli duo Yasser Al-Mosaileem and Mohammed Al-Owais in addition to Al-Hilal’s Abdullah Al-Mayouf. One of those four will fail to make the cut as no team takes four goalkeepers to the World Cup.
There were no changes in the backline where the former Chile boss is opting for harmony. Eight of the nine defenders called up ply their trade at Al-Hilal or Al-Ahli, while Al-Nassr’s Omar Hawsawi rounds off the selection. One defender might have to make way and Al-Hilal teammates Mohammad Jahfali and Ali Al-Bulayhi could well find themselves vying for one spot on the plane to Moscow.
Abdullah Otayf and Taisir Al-Jassim look to be firm favorites to make the starting XI in the base of midfield, while the third central spot is up for grabs. Hussein Al-Moqahwi has regularly featured in that position, but Salman Al-Faraj’s return from a long injury saw him start both friendlies in the Spain training camp. Abdulmalik Al-Khaibari could emerge as the more conservative midfield enforcer against stronger sides.
The center of the pitch is where the most intense battle of positions will take place. As many as three midfielders could be left behind come June 4. Ibrahim Ghaleb has already been left out and he may be joined by Al-Shabab duo Hattan Bahebri and Abdulla Al-Khaibari. One of Mohammad Kanno and Mohammed Al Kuwaikbi could be the last man to be dropped in two weeks’ time.
Up front, Harun Kamara, a surprise call-up for the recent friendlies, failed to retain his spot in the squad so Mohannad Assiri and Mohammed Al-Sahlawi will battle it out for the sole striker position.

Goalkeepers: Mohammed Al-Owais, Yasser Al-Mosaileem (Al-Ahli); Abdullah Al-Mayouf (Al-Hilal); Assaf Al-Qarni (Al-Ittihad)
Defenders: Motaz Hawsawi, Saeed Al-Muwallad, Mansour Al-Harbi (Al-Ahli); Osama Hawsawi, Mohammed Jahfali, Ali Al-Bulayhi, Mohammed Al-Burayk, Yasser Al-Shahrani (Al-Hilal); Omar Hawsawi (Al-Nassr).
Midfielders: Abdullah Al-Khaibari, Hattan Bahebri (Al-Shabab); Abdulmalik Al-Khaibari, Abdulla Otayf, Salman Al-Faraj, Mohammed Kanno, Nawaf Al-Abid (Al-Hilal); Taisir Al-Jassim, Hussein Al-Moqahwi (Al-Ahli); Mohammed Al-Kuwaikbi (Al-Ettifaq); Salem Al-Dawsari (Villarreal); Fahad Al-Muwallad (Levante); Yahya Al-Shehri (Leganes)
Forwards: Mohammed Al-Sahlawi (Al-Nassr); Mohannad Assiri (Al-Ahli)

Juan Antonio Pizzi calls for more Saudi Arabia stars to play in Europe after Asian Cup exit to Japan

Updated 21 January 2019

Juan Antonio Pizzi calls for more Saudi Arabia stars to play in Europe after Asian Cup exit to Japan

  • Green Falcons coach claims side at disadvantage by not having its best players play in the best leagues.
  • Japan hold on to 1-0 lead as Saudi Arabia exit early after promising start to campaign.

LONDON: Juan Antonio Pizzi has called for more Saudi Arabian players to play abroad if the Green Falcons want to return to the top of Asian football.
The coach was speaking having watched his side exit the Asian Cup at the hands of Japan — a Takehiro Tomiyasu header after 20 minutes the enough to see the Blue Samurai through to the last-eight.
Saudi Arabia were in the ascendancy early on but it was Japan who snatched the advantage with a straightforward goal from a set piece on 20 minutes.
From a corner, Japan defender Tomiyasu climbed above his marker and nodded firmly into the bottom corner. The Green Falcons twice came close with headers as they strived for a way back, and Hatan Bahbri curled one just 
off-target as he went for the top corner.

Saudi Arabia could find no way past a resolute Japan defence in Sharjah. (AFP) 

But they could not find a way past an organized and determined Japanese backline and paid the price with an early exit.
For Pizzi the lesson of the 
tournament is that Saudi Arabia’s finest talents need to get more experience in Europe if the side is to take on the continent and world’s best on a regular basis.
“The league has not developed enough and football in other places has improved. It’s tough to have success if you change philosophies every year. Players must go to Europe,” the former Spain international said.
“I am very satisfied with the performance of the players who adhered to my directions on the pitch, and we will analyze our mistakes right away. We just did not have the final touch in the match.”
Last year, before the World Cup, three of Saudi Arabia’s leading lights did play in Spain in a bid to get more exposure to top-class football. Salem Al-Dawsari joined Villarreal, Fahad Al-Muwallad signed for Levante, while Leganes took Yahya Al-Shehri. All three had limited game time in the five months they were in La Liga but it is clear that Pizzi wants more of his players to follow their lead.
What is also not in doubt for the coach is the effort of the players. They started their campaign off well with a 4-0 thrashing of North Korea, followed up with a 2-0 
victory over Lebanon, but were unable to maintain that form, going down 2-0 to Qatar before the Japan defeat.
“The players have not let me down throughout the entire Asian Cup, but we must not forget that we played against one of the best teams in Asia, with most of their players participating in the European leagues.
“We chose the best players who deserved to represent the team. I am satisfied with how they performed during the tournament and what they earnestly sought to apply in the games in terms of technical plans and strategies.”
Pizzi confirmed in the post-match press conference that his contract with the Saudi Federation has run out and there have been no discussions about the future.

The pain of the early exit was clear to see after the final whistle. (AFP)