TEAM PROFILE: Saudi Arabia plotting a repeat of 1994 World Cup showing

Juan Antonio Pizzi will lead Saudi Arabia at the World Cup. (AFP)
Updated 12 June 2018
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TEAM PROFILE: Saudi Arabia plotting a repeat of 1994 World Cup showing

  • Fahad Al-Muwallad will be Green Falcons' key man
  • Goals could be a problem for Juan Antonio Pizzi's side

All this week we will profile the four Arab teams hoping to do well in Russia. Today we examine the credentials of Saudi Arabia. The Green Falcons are making their fifth appearance at the World Cup and their first since 2006.

How they got there
Saudi Arabia were pitched in Group B of Asian qualifying and were seen very much as outsiders for the two automatic spots behind Japan, Australia and UAE. But they got their campaign off to a dream start with wins in the space of a week over Thailand and Iraq, with the latter secured by two dramatic goals in the last nine minutes from Nawaf Al-Abed. They never looked back and the highlight was a 3-0 home win over the UAE. They eventually secured automatic qualification on the final day when Fahad Al-Muwallad sunk group winners Japan with a goal that will go down in Saudi Arabia folklore.

Manager
Juan Antonio Pizzi was handpicked in November as the man to replace Edgardo Bauza, who lasted just 69 days in charge. Ironically, Pizzi trained under Bauza at Rosario Central in 1999-2000. Pizzi arrived in the Kingdom with a wealth of experience, having coached in Argentina, Spain and Mexico and also the national team in Chile, coaching global stars such as Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal. A former striker who racked up 160 goals in 364 games during a 15-year career with clubs including Barcelona, Tenerife and Valencia, Pizzi was part of Spain’s squad at the 1998 World Cup but this will be his first as a coach.

Tactics
Pizzi favors a 4-3-2-1 formation and this worked well against Germany. He has been playing Mohammad Al-Sahlawi as the lone striker but he is without an international goal in more than a year and the smart money is on Pizzi going with Fahad Al-Muwallad.
Pizzi places lots of importance on the full backs as they are expected to provide the width, with Yasser Al-Shahrani particularly key. Abdullah Otayf will anchor the midfield and he is the linchpin of the team. Salem Al-Dawsari and Yahya Al-Shehri will provide the flair from the more advanced attacking midfield positions and are expected to chip in with goals.

Key man
Fahad Al-Muwallad became the first player from the Kingdom to play in La Liga when he turned out for Levante against Leganes in May — and he is fancied to build on that history-making achievement and lead the way in Russia. He will always be remembered as the player who booked World Cup qualification with that goal against Japan, but the Al-Ittihad forward has since gone on to score against Ukraine and come within a whisker of netting an equalizer against Italy. He is a crowd-pleasing talent and has all the tools (pace, power and trickery) to succeed on the biggest stage.

World Cup history
This will be the Green Falcons’ fifth appearance at the finals but their first since 2006. They have won only two matches at the finals — and they both came in 1994, against Morocco and Belgium, when they made it out of the group for the first and only time. Goalkeeper Mohamed Al-Deayea has made more appearances (10) than any other Saudi player at the finals while Samir Al-Jaber has played in four World Cups and scored in two, 12 years apart.

Strengths
The flair of Al-Dawsari, Al-Shehri and Al-Muwallad. They have been in Spain for the past six months and while they did not get the game-time everyone hoped, Pizzi feels they are fitter and stronger and will certainly not be fatigued like so many others after a long season. Saudi Arabia’s chances rest on their creative shoulders.

Weaknesses
Goals. The fact Pizzi named only two strikers in his squad tells you plenty about the dearth of strikers in the Kingdom. Al-Sahlawi’s record of 28 in 40 games is flattered by eight in two games against whipping boys East Timor while Muhannad Assiri scored his first international goal in seven years in February.


Jabeur becomes first Tunisian woman to make WTA final

Updated 19 October 2018
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Jabeur becomes first Tunisian woman to make WTA final

  • Jabeur, ranked 101st in the world and who came through qualifying, prevailed over Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 3-6, 6-3
  • In Saturday’s final, Jabeur will face sixth-seeded Daria Kasatkina of Russia, last year’s runner-up, who put out Britain’s Johanna Konta 6-4, 6-3.

MOSCOW: Ons Jabeur made history on Friday when she became the first Tunisian woman to reach a WTA final by seeing off Latvian fifth seed Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow.
Jabeur, ranked 101st in the world and who came through qualifying, prevailed in one hour 37 minutes.
“This is really amazing and I’m really happy. I gave it all today, and it wasn’t easy because she plays really good,” said 24-year-old Jabeur, who unleashed 45 winners on her way to victory.
“Maybe I was too relaxed in the second set. At the end, I stayed calm. It was a little bit frustrating because I missed some easy balls, but I said I was just going to play my game, and if it goes, it goes.”
In Saturday’s final, Jabeur will face sixth-seeded Daria Kasatkina of Russia, last year’s runner-up, who put out Britain’s Johanna Konta 6-4, 6-3.
“They’re both playing good, so I hope they fight for four hours,” Jabeur had said. “The best win is that there is a Tunisian in the final.”
Jabeur lost her only career meeting against Kasatkina at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
“She (Jabeur) plays interesting tennis with plenty of drop shots, often advances to the net,” Kasatkina said.
“Everything is possible in tomorrow’s final and I will just come onto the court and try to play my best.”
In the ATP event, France’s Adrian Mannarino ended Egor Gerasimov’s run beating the Belarus qualifier 7-6 (7/3), 6-3 to set up a semifinal with Italy’s Andreas Seppi, who ousted fourth seeded Serb Filip Krajinovic 6-4, 7-6 (7/2).
Second seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia beat last year’s runner-up Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 will face third-seeded compatriot Karen Khachanov, who saw off Mirza Basic of Bosnia 6-2, 7-6 (7/5).