Saudi Arabia confident they can cause a few shocks at World Cup

Abdullah Otayf is in a confident mood ahead of Thursday's opening clash against Russia.
Updated 13 June 2018
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Saudi Arabia confident they can cause a few shocks at World Cup

  • Midfielder certain side can create history by making the last-eight in Russia.
  • Green Falcons reached the last 16 at USA 94.

LONDON: Key midfielder Abdullah Otayf has underlined the growing sense of ambition in the Saudi Arabia squad by claiming they have their sights set on going deeper into the tournament than any Green Falcons team before them.
Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side will launch the tournament against Russia on Thursday but the team’s aspirations go way beyond having the distinction of taking part in the opening game. Saudi Arabia reached the last 16 in 1994, but Otayf has seen enough in friendlies and in training to believe the class of 2018 can not only match that, but surpass it.
“We have great ambitions and this is reflected through the support via various social media networks and the supports of our leaders,” he said in the pre-match press conference in St. Petersburg.
“As I said we have great ambitions, but what matter most is that we play as a one team and present a performance worthy of Saudi football, and we will achieve great results. We have great ambitions and we hope to be able to reach round of 16 and round of 8. This needs great efforts but we hope to be able to reach our goal. We are very well prepared and ready at all levels. Everything is going smoothly.”
Saudi Arabia will be hoping to seize on the fact that Russia have not played a competitive game for more than a year and that they might feel the pressure of an expectant home crowd. The Russians have not won a game since the 4-3 win over South Korea in October.,
“Russia are a good team with great players,” Otayf said.
“We won’t pay any attention to the things happening outside the field. We must focus on our own game. The team with the highest focus and the least errors will win.”
Yahya Al-Shehri should get the nod to play in one of the three midfield positions behind the lone striker and he watched a re-run of the Russians’ 1-0 loss to Austria and their 1-1 draw with Turkey.
“We watched the warm-up match that took place lately,” he said.
“We watched the previous warm-up matches, they have a good team with great players, I don’t have a specific name in my mind. They have in place an integrated system, whether in term of attack or zone defense. That’s what I have noticed. But it does not show the true caliber of Russia team. The performance of the team during an official match differs a lot than warm-up match. We must focus on the weaknesses of the Russia squad and exploit them. We must focus on our game and present and excellent performance so as to win.”
The Saudi Arabian Football Federation have pulled out all the stops for the Kingdom’s fifth appearance at the finals. They have arranged five training camps and nine friendlies this year. No team at the finals will have played more warm-up games than the Green Falcons.
“We are hoping for the best thanks to our preparations and trainings during the past period,” Al-Shehri said.
“We have completed our preparations and spent a big deal of time together. I think the game against Russia will be very difficult and I hope, we will be able to beat Russia because we came here to achieve our ambitions.”


FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: A classic clash, sublime New Orleans Saints and a bad break for Alex Smith

Updated 20 November 2018
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FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: A classic clash, sublime New Orleans Saints and a bad break for Alex Smith

  • Saints once again show why they are serious Super Bowl contenders.
  • Unlucky Alex Smith suffers a horror injury.

LONDON: This is the time of year that can either make or break a team’s regular season. Are they headed for the playoffs or are they set to be on holiday in January? Here is what we learned after week 11 of the NFL.

RAMS AND CHIEFS SERVE UP A CLASSIC

Where to start analyzing Monday night’s epic in Los Angeles? It was certainly one of the best games of gridiron I have ever seen. From the first kick-off to the final seconds, both sides threw caution to the wind, with the Rams winning by three points in a 54-51 nail-biter — on the way to producing a classic clash that will still be talked about for years to come. 
American Football is often criticized for being too “stop-start,” but watching these two Super Bowl favorites go hammer and tongs for four quarters would have been enough to convert any detractor.
To put into context just how explosive both teams were, it was the first time two teams have scored more than 50 points in a match in the history of the NFL.
While many are praising the defensive qualities of a playoffs-bound Chicago, we are just glad the defensive units did not bother showing up for this one and we had the privilege of watching two blistering offenses in full flow. If either of these teams goes on to win the Super Bowl, they can pinpoint this match as one of the key moments of their season.

It was raining touchdowns in the all-time classic between the Chiefs and the Rams.



SAINTS CHANNELLING THE SPIRIT OF 2009

When the league fixtures were announced in the summer, the Saints-Eagles match-up was singled out as a test of the two team’s NFC championship credentials. Unlike the Rams and Chiefs extravaganza, though, this ended up being a damp squib of a game. 
Philadelphia just did not turn up, while the Saints — the hottest team in the league at the moment — were imperiously led by Drew Brees to a blowout 48-7 win, which now sits in the record books as worst defeat in the Eagles’ history. 
Brees threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns, meaning that the 9-1 Saints have now scored 40-plus points in three matches in a row and have become the first team in the Super Bowl era to post at least 40 points six times in the first 10 games of the season. It will take a very good team to stop this Saints side from claiming glory in Atlanta next February.

Drew Brees was once again in imperious form for the ever-improving and dangerous Saints. 



PURE ATHLETICISM TRUMPS TACTICAL PLAY-CALLS

Gridiron is an extremely technical and tactical sport, with coaches and players spending weeks perfecting certain plays. But sometimes a moment of sheer athletic prowess wins out and blows all the spreadsheets and playbook analysis out the window. Week 11 saw its fair share of brilliant moments — from Kenny Golladay’s sublime touchdown catch for the Lions against Carolina, to Juju Smith-Schuster’s unbelievable grab for the Steelers on a late, game-winning drive, not forgetting Odell Beckham’s strength to hold on in the end-zone for a Giants score against Tampa Bay. And those moments are exactly why millions of people tune in to the NFL every week.

Kenny Golladay with his moment of magic during Detriot's 20-19 win over Carolina. 



THOUGHTS WITH ALEX SMITH

Much progress has been made in preventing concussion and serious head injuries in the NFL in recent years. Rule changes and safety measures have been implemented, and we are beginning to see a reduction in the number of head and neck traumas. But in sport, horror injuries can happen — and there is little the league can do to prevent the kind of leg breaks Washington’s Alex Smith suffered during their game against the Texans. Everyone watching immediately knew the severity of the break, and it is clear Smith faces a lengthy recovery. Such injuries can end careers. Here’s hoping he makes it back.

Alex Smith being stretchered off after his horror injury suffered against the Texans.