Saudi Arabia can make second round, says former Green Falcons technical director Jan Van Winckel

Jan Van Winckel helped get Saudi Arabia to the tournament in Russia.
Updated 13 June 2018

Saudi Arabia can make second round, says former Green Falcons technical director Jan Van Winckel

  • Former technical director has high hopes for the Green Falcons in Russia.
  • Saudi Arabia placed in Group A and Van Winckel says its one they can get out of.

MOSCOW: When Saudi Arabia and hosts Russia walk out in the curtain raiser of the World Cup on Thursday at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, Jan Van Winckel, the former technical director of the Saudi Football Federation will be a keen observer. The Belgian firmly believes that the Falcons will be competitive in Russia. 
“I think Saudi Arabia have a good chance of reaching the second round,” Van Winckel told Arab News.
“In the two years that Bert van Marwijk, as coach, and I, as technical director, worked in Saudi Arabia, we succeeded in building a great team that was capable of competing with the best teams in the world. Our victory against Japan in the qualifiers demonstrated this.”
Saudi Arabia will be underdogs in Group A at the World Cup. The Falcons are ranked 67th in the world,  second-lowest at the tournament only behind the hosts Russia in 70th, but Van Winckel does not consider those stats a problem.
“Uruguay are the favorites, and they will likely easily qualify for the second round,” the Belgian said.
“It is amazing what Uruguay achieve with a population of fewer than four million people. In contrast, Russia has a rather weak generation of players, and it will be under a lot of pressure to qualify. I think Saudi Arabia and Egypt are at the same level. While Egypt definitely have the advantage of Mohamed Salah, Saudi Arabia can field a good team full of experienced international players.” 
The Saudi Arabia defense will face international stars, heavyweights like Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. Across all sectors of the field, Pizzi’s team lack international exposure. The Saudi Arabia Football Federation and the General Sports Authority tried to mitigate for that by sending players abroad last January and lining up strong opponents in the final warmup matches, including a a valiant 2-1 defeat at the hands of Germany. 
“A country’s football is developed by the clubs,” Van Winckel explained. “Saudi Arabia has one of the best Asian leagues, and it often competes for the Asian Champions League, as Al-Hilal and Al-Ahli did recently. The maximum of three foreign players in Asian competitions can be a problem for Saudi teams, however. The local Saudi players are paid well, so they tend not to be inclined to play abroad, where they could gain experience that they can later bring back to the country. I think it is a good idea to promote European competition to Saudi players, but I think the focus should be on younger players.”
Van Winckel, however, warned against complacency, saying it was a must for Saudi Arabia to establish itself among the top 35-ranked teams in the world.
“You often notice that at successful moments people will rest on the laurels, that there is too little investment in the future and too little innovative thinking,” said Van Winckel.
“This is the trap of success; to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow. You often see this undulation with national teams.”
Today, Van Winckel works in various roles for Belgian club Beerschot and Sheffield United in England. After Saudi Arabia’s World Cup qualification the relationship between the Saudi Arabia Football Federation and Van Marwijk  soured with disputes over a new contract. The 2010 World Cup finalist left and Van Winckel also exited with him. 
“Although we were successful on all levels, the Saudi Football Federation decided to change the entire technical department following the elections,” Van Winckel said.
“The decision of the Saudi Football Federation to not extend Bert’s contract was in line with the overall changes in the technical department.” 

Juventus crowned Italian Super Cup champions

‘I’m very happy to have won my first title with Juventus,’ Cristiano Ronaldo said. (Photo/General Sports Authority)
Updated 17 January 2019

Juventus crowned Italian Super Cup champions

  • Ronaldo’s glancing header sinks AC Milan 1-0 at Jeddah’s King Abdullah Sports City Stadium

JEDDAH: A historic Wednesday evening at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium saw Italian champions Juventus beat AC Milan in the final of the 31st annual Supercoppa Italiana.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored the winning goal as Juventus lifted the Supercoppa Italiana for the first time since 2015 with a 1-0 victory in front of a sold-out 61,235-capacity crowd.

As only one should expect when two of the most successful Italian clubs go head to head, a tactical and elegant, albeit very physical, display of football was at hand. 

Cheerful roars from the Jeddah crowd resonated throughout the night, in the kind of buzzing atmosphere that only a cup final brings.

Juventus, the Serie A champions, began brightly and were the first side to settle into the game, threatening with frequent sweeping moves.

Juventus and Portuguese international Joao Cancelo could have opened the scoring in the 16th minute after being played through on goal, but the defender’s zooming effort lacked the necessary precision and whisked past the far post with the Milan keeper rooted in his spot.

A maddening crescendo of noise erupted when Juventus and French international Blaise Matuidi thought he had opened the scoring in the 33rd minute after being played through by Costa before being flagged offside. 

Juventus did not have too much longer for another opportunity though, with Ronaldo’s acrobatic half volley from just outside the six-yard box bouncing and nestling agonizingly just over the bar and sparing Donnarumma’s blushes in the process.

Christiano Ronaldo has scored eight goals in his last seven finals. (Reuters)

Milan, who qualified for the final as runners-up to Juventus in last season’s Coppa Italia, had struggled throughout the first half to settle into the game. They gradually grew into their own though, and nearly broke the deadlock at the stroke of halftime with a stinging drive from Turkish international Hakan Calhanoglu.

After a slew of opportunities had Juventus failing to build a halftime lead, Milan nearly made them pay for their squandered chances by starting the second half like bats out of hell. 

Milan’s confident pressing start to the half was almost rewarded in the 47th minute when a Ronaldo tackle inadvertently set up Cutrone with a clear sight on goal.  The striker turned and blasted an effort that rattled off the crossbar — the closest either team had come thus far.

And just when the tide seemed to have turned for Milan in the second half, their confidence building with every minute, a perfectly floating cross from Pjanic found Ronaldo with yards of space, and he made no mistake directing a swift header into the back of the net in the 61st minute and sending Juve supporters into a frenzy.

• AS IT HAPPENED: Cristiano Ronaldo's goal gives Juventus Supercoppa Italiana victory over AC Milan in Jeddah >>

• Arab News Matchday gallery >>

Things went from bad to worse for Milan in the 73rd minute. Franck Kessie came rushing in with a recklessly timed tackle, crunching his studs into the shins of Emre Can, which resulted in him seeing a straight red and leaving Milan with 10 men and a subsequent insurmountable uphill battle.

The final whistle came soon after, and with it brought Juventus a record eighth Supercoppa. It goes without saying that there is nothing quite like the atmosphere of a cup final, but this was a historic and monumental occasion for Jeddah. 

The first major European cup final match being held in Saudi Arabia is now in the books, and with it brought an added sense of passion and excitement. 

Thousands of men, women and children showed up enthusiastically, were highly supportive of both teams, and were thoroughly entertained. It was a successful and memorable night that will surely pave the way for many more.

Addressing a prematch press conference on Tuesday night, Juventus Captain Giorgio Chiellini had defended the choice of Jeddah as the venue for the game against a backdrop of criticism by some. He said that it was “right” to give the Saudi port city the chance to host the showpiece match.

“We (footballers) cannot change the world but initiatives such as this can provide a new start.”

Juventus had been experiencing a worrying trend in cup finals of late. Despite securing the Serie A and Coppa Italia double for three seasons running, they had lost back-to-back Supercoppas and seven out of nine European Cup finals. 

Chiellini, however, firmly believed that his team would change the trend and the team did make their captain proud. 

Juventus now holds the outright record of most Italian Super Cups with eight titles. (Arab News photo by Ali Khamg)