Green Falcons ready to bear responsibility of a nation at Russia 2018

Saudi Arabia’s Osama Hawsawi duels for the ball with Germany’s Julian Draxler during the friendly between Germany and Saudi Arabia at the BayArena in Leverkusen. The eyes of the world will be on Juan Antonio Pizzi’s Saudi side when they play in the opening game of the 21st World Cup against Russia on Thursday. (AFP)
Updated 09 June 2018
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Green Falcons ready to bear responsibility of a nation at Russia 2018

  • The Green Falcons finished their World Cup preparations, with a 2-1 reversal, against Germany on Friday night and now nerves will be starting to jangle ahead of the tournament curtain-raiser.
  • Saudi Arabia midfielder Hattan Bahebri: “First, our priority is not just to be part of the World Cup, but also to have good results and reach the round of 16 and more.”

LONDON: Saudi Arabia midfielder Hattan Bahebri said the enormity of being involved in the opening game of the World Cup is starting to sink in for the Green Falcons and revealed there is an inner belief in the squad to do more than just make up the numbers in Russia.
Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side launch the 21st World Cup against Russia on Thursday and, if the audience of 290 million for the opener in 2014 is anything to go by, they can expect the eyes of the world to be on them. The Green Falcons finished their World Cup preparations, with a 2-1 reversal, against Germany on Friday night and now nerves will be starting to jangle ahead of the tournament curtain-raiser.
“The closer we get to the first game, the bigger the responsibility,” Bahebri said in a video interview on the Saudi Football Federation’s Twitter account. “It is a huge event. It is the World Cup. It is a huge responsibility to me and my teammates. I hope we will fulfill the expectations of our fans.”
Saudi Arabia are the second lowest ranked side in the World Cup — Russia are the lowest at 70 — so expectations are low, but with Egypt not in great form and without Mohamed Salah for at least some of the group stage, there is a feeling the Green Falcons could seriously contend for the second spot in the group behind Uruguay.
“First, our priority is not just to be part of the World Cup, but also to have good results and reach the round of the 16 and more,” Bahebri said. “We are now focusing on our game with Russia, and we will work on winning it.”
The squad is heading to Russia without Nawaf Al-Abed, the Al-Hilal playmaker who scored five goals in qualifying, but who only managed to play 22 minutes under Pizzi because of injury. The Argentinian felt he could not take a chance on a player who has not started a game since Jan. 8 because of a groin injury.
“The coach takes the decisions and I guess Nawaf is injured and hopefully he will get better,” midfielder Hussain Al-Mogahwi said. “He sat with the coach and talked to him about everything. Nawaf is a hero, and the four others who were left out with him are also champions.”
Saudi Arabia will be nothing if not fully prepared for what Group A has to throw at them. They have played Italy, Peru and Germany — sides all ranked in the top 20 — in their last three friendlies and the nine matches they have played this year is more than any other side at the World Cup.
“The two friendly games with Peru and Italy will get us ready,” said Al-Mogahwi. “During the game with Italy, we weren’t focused and afraid, but all the players played well and we had a good game. We had many opportunities ... We could have tied the game if we had scored. During the game with Peru, the coach changed the squad and honestly, we were good, but luck was not on our side. We got a good experience from the friendly games. The games in the World Cup will have the same level.”


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

Updated 18 June 2018
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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.