Effort and experience: Five things we learned from Juan Antonio Pizzi’s Saudi Arabia squad

Juan Antonio Pizzi has revealed the men he trusts to represent Saudi Arabia in Russia this summer.
Updated 05 June 2018
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Effort and experience: Five things we learned from Juan Antonio Pizzi’s Saudi Arabia squad

  • Argentine boss not willing to risk unfit players in Russia.
  • A lot of pressure on Green Falcons' midfield to produce the goals.

Juan Antonio Pizzi has revealed his cards and named the 23 men he will trust to try to steer Saudi Arabia to success at the World Cup. Here are the five things we have learned from the Argentine’s selections:
YASSER AL-SHAHRANI IS KEY: It may not be that brave these days to take two recognized strikers to a major tournament but three full-backs is something else. The bonus for Pizzi is that Al-Shahrani can play on either side, providing a two-in-one option that enables the boss to load the plane with 11 midfielders.

ONLY THE FITTEST SURVIVE: Only the fittest survive: Since Pizzi arrived in November, the Argentine has tried to ramp up the intensity. There is more energy, more pressing and more sweat on display. The omission of the talented but recently injured Nawaf Al-Abed illustrates that anyone who was not 100 percent was never going to get to Russia. If Saudi Arabia have any chance of getting out of the group then hard work and effort will be key. Any player whose fitness is in question can make themselves comfortable on the subs’ bench safe in the knowledge that is where they will most likely stay.

MIDFIELD IS WHERE THE ATTACKING INTENT WILL COME FROM: Saudi 
Arabia just do not have top-quality strikers. Mohammed Al-Sahlawi and Mohanad Aseri are unlikely to strike fear into opposition defenses. There is, however, plenty of attacking talent among the raft of midfielders named and it may well be that a version of a strikerless Green Falcons is spotted in Russia this summer.

NAWAF AL-ABED IS UNLUCKY: The Al-Hilal midfielder did so much to get the Green Falcons to their first World Cup since 2006 and if Bert van Marwijk was still in charge, he would likely be in the squad despite his injury woes. Pizzi knows the player less well. Had Al-Abed been fit a month earlier to take the pitch against Algeria or Greece then things may have been different, but coming in against a rampant Peru team, one full of energy and talent, was unfortunate for a player with almost zero game time under his belt. His creativity will be missed.

EXPERIENCE MATTERS: Take the recovering Al-Abed out of the equation and all those who missed the cut were players who were far from 
national team regulars. Assaf Al-Qarni in goal, defenders Saeed Al-Mowalad and Mohammed Jahfali and midfielder Mohammed Al-Kwikbi have barely 30 international appearances between them. Pizzihas gone with experience and with 80,000 hostile fans waiting in Moscow in the opening game, perhaps it will prove to be a wise decision.


World Cup boost for Egypt as Mohamed Salah ‘is ready to play against Russia’

Updated 23 min 7 sec ago
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World Cup boost for Egypt as Mohamed Salah ‘is ready to play against Russia’

  • Liverpool star took part in full training
  • Egypt team manager says Salah is poised to make his World Cup bow

ST. PETERSBURG: Mohamed Salah is a looming obstacle as Russia attempt to virtually secure their place in the knockout stages of the World Cup in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday.
Fears that poor performances from the home side could dampen enthusiasm in the host nation were blown away by a 5-0 demolition of Saudi Arabia in the opening game.
The seven-time African champions will pose a much tougher task, but a lot will depend upon Salah's fitness.
Liverpool star Salah has not featured since leaving the field in tears early in the Champions League final just over three weeks ago after landing heavily on his left shoulder and had to watch from the bench as Egypt lost 1-0 to Uruguay in their opening game.
Salah has been declared 100 percent fit by Egypt's team doctor and his agent, leaving little doubt he will be thrown back into action in the Pharaohs' hour of need.
However, as he returned to training on Saturday, Salah was seen by AFP reporters at Egypt's training camp in Grozny needing help from teammates to lift a training top over his head.
"Salah participated in training with his teammates for the entire session and he is ready to play against Russia according to technical staff," Egypt's team manager Ihab Leheta told FIFA.com.
Egypt coach Hector Cuper's decision not to risk Salah against Uruguay may have been influenced by the fact his side held out for 89 minutes before conceding to Jose Gimenez, by which time the Argentine had made all three of his substitutions.
"Russia's game is fateful and difficult because of our defeat against Uruguay," said Leheta. "Winning is our only choice".
If fully fit, the sight of Salah, who scored 44 goals in a remarkable debut season at Liverpool, will strike fear into the Russians.
Concerns Russia could become just the second host nation to bow out of the World Cup at the group stage after a seven-game winless run ahead of the tournament have been alleviated by a perfect start.
With Uruguay favourites to top the group, though, Russia are keen not to have to rely on getting something from their final group game against the two-time former world champions.
"The second game will be our most important one in the group stage," said Russia's deputy prime minister and former football federation president Vitaly Mutko after attending Russia's training session on Sunday.
A close ally of President Vladimir Putin, Mutko oversaw preparations for the tournament at a cost of more than $13 billion.
"In the first match, everyone saw how much the players cared. If we play up to our level, I don't see any problems."
Denis Cheryshev was Russia's hero against Saudi Arabia as he came off the bench to score twice.
And the Villarreal winger accepted it will be a more "interesting" clash if Salah is fit.
"If he's not there, does that mean our task becomes easy? Not at all," he told FIFA.com "If he plays, it will be hard but more interesting. He's one of the best and you always want to compete with the best and win."
Russia will be without one of their key players, with Alan Dzagoev expected to miss the rest of the tournament with a hamstring injury.