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
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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.” 


‘Man, I was so surprised’: Saudi Olympian Al-Muawi clinches bronze in Argentina games

The podium for the Athletics Mens 200m: Haruto Deguchi JPN (centre, Gold Medalist), Daniel Huller HUN (left, Silver Medalist) and Mohammed Duhaim M Almuawi KSA (right, Bronze Medalist) at the Athletics Field, Youth Olympic Park. The Youth Olympic Games, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday 16th October 2018. Photo: Ivo Gonzalez for OIS/IOC. (Handout image supplied by OIS/IOC)
Updated 17 October 2018
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‘Man, I was so surprised’: Saudi Olympian Al-Muawi clinches bronze in Argentina games

  • Al-Muawi has been racing hurdles for five years after picking it out as a sport he could excel in at the age of 12

BUENOS AIRES: With his bag packed and preparing to leave the Youth Olympic Park one last time on Tuesday night, Mohammed Al-Muawi was called back to the scene of the 400-metres Hurdles event, in which he had just finished fourth overall. With doping officials thronged at the entrance, he assumed he must have been randomly selected for testing. Instead, he got the news he will now never forget.

The 17-year-old Saudi is an Olympic bronze medallist.

“Man, I was so surprised to find out,” he told Arab News after being promoted onto the podium after South Africa’s Lindukhule Gora was disqualified. “It was my first competition and my first medal, so it’s amazing. This here means everything to me. When I finished the race, I was like ‘OK, fourth is OK’. I put my clothes back on and got ready to leave, but then they told me: ‘Come back, come back! You have a bronze medal!’ I was like, ‘What? How is that even possible?’”

Under a blistering sun and having led for much of the first 300m, Al-Muawi tired as the home straight loomed, crossing the finish-line fifth with a time of 53.05s. With Gora being disqualified for stepping out of his lane, however, Al-Muawi was immediately pushed up a place. Then, having bettered France’s Martin Fraysse’s time in the first-stage heat, it came down to the calculator.

Al-Muawi was 0.37s faster than Fraysse in the first heat, while Fraysse finished the second just 0.33s ahead. The result: the Asian Youth Championships silver-medallist posted a combined time of 1.45.81, making him the third quickest across a field of continental winners, beating Fraysse by just 0.04s.

“It's confusing for sure, but across the two heats, I was second and fourth, so I feel third is deserved," he said, looking down and caressing the bronze medal hanging from his neck. "It was a very strong field in the final. I started well, but the last 100m or so was very tiring and I was unable to really open my legs. It’s been an amazing experience though. Wow. I love the competition, the village, eating the different foods…it’s been unforgettable. And this just tops it all off.”

Al-Muawi splits his time between schooling in Bisha in the south of the Kingdom and training in Los Angeles, California, with World Championships silver-medallist Ryan Wilson. Saudi athletics delegation head, Saad Al-Asmari — himself a former 3000m Asian champion — expects this to be the start of more success not only for Al-Muawi but for Saudi athletics.

“Mohammed did very well,” said Al-Asmari. “He ran very well and it was only in the final 100 metres he had some problems. This result is very good for him and I’m very happy because he is only 17. Also, we have many other talents like this in Saudi Arabia. We have many athletes, but we need good coaching.

“Mohammed has been training since May in LA, which is where we send all our best athletes. When they come back, we always notice little differences: their body shape changes, their technique, endurance, everything.”

Al-Muawi has been racing hurdles for five years after picking it out as a sport he could excel in at the age of 12. He will head home to Bisha now to spend time with his family and continue his studies for two months before returning to LA to prepare for next year’s Asian Championships. The most important lesson he has learnt from Wilson in the United States is not physical, but rather psychological, he said.

“It’s has been a great experience for me over there so far,” he added, his English having improved considerably since his switch. “My coach there has shown support throughout, always telling me that I can do it. Always urging me to never give up. He tells me that before every competition I must tell myself: ‘I am hungry’. He tells me always that I’m a different breed too, so I guess I then begin to believe it — yes, I am a different breed."