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.” 


Leonard stars as Raptors claw back with win over Bucks

Updated 20 May 2019
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Leonard stars as Raptors claw back with win over Bucks

  • Milwaukee’s MVP finalist Giannis Antetokounmpo struggles to just 12 points
  • He then fouled out in the first minute of the second overtime period

LOS ANGELES: Kawhi Leonard scored eight of his 36 points in the second overtime period Sunday to lead the Toronto Raptors to a gritty 118-112 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Eastern Conference finals.
The Raptors, who dropped the first two games of the best-of-seven series in Milwaukee, clawed their way back to 2-1 in front of home fans and will try to level the set when they host game four on Tuesday.
Pascal Siakam scored 25 points and Spanish center Marc Gasol added 16 for the Raptors, who got off to a quick start and led much of the night but had to battle to put the Bucks away.
“We just played a lot tougher,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “We were up guarding, we were physical. We were ready to play tonight.”
Milwaukee’s Most Valuable Player finalist Giannis Antetokounmpo struggled to just 12 points on five-of-16 shooting.
Antetokounmpo’s 23 rebounds helped the Bucks stay in touch, but he didn’t reach double figures in points until the middle of the fourth quarter and he produced eight of the Bucks’ 20 turnovers.
Antetokounmpo fouled out in the first minute of the second overtime period.
Moments later the Bucks managed to edge ahead 105-103 — taking the lead for the first time since Antetokounmpo scored the game’s opening basket — but Leonard and the Raptors roared back.
Leonard’s steal and dunk put Toronto ahead 112-109 and his driving bank shot gave Toronto a 114-110 lead with 32.4 seconds remaining.
Leonard played a key role in limiting Antetokounmpo and Nurse said his defensive play was “probably the biggest key of the game.”
“Not only did he just play good, but he made some huge plays with some steals and rip-aways and break aways,” Nurse said.
“Offense was hard to come by there for both teams for a while and any time you can get a steal and a break out it’s a huge momentum play.”
Toronto had a chance to win it in regulation, but they let a 96-91 lead slip away in the final 1:13 of the fourth quarter.
Milwaukee guard Khris Middleton’s putback basket from his own miss with 2.2 seconds left in regulation forced overtime.
The Raptors led 103-99 with 1:29 remaining in the first extra session.
But Malcolm Brogdon floated in a shot and George Hill drained two free throws to tie it before Leonard’s jump shot fell short.
The Raptors overcame a slow night from Kyle Lowry, who scored 11 points before fouling out with 6:12 left in the fourth.
Although Leonard scored 19 points in the fourth quarter and both overtimes, some grimaces from the Raptors star sparked concerns he might be injured.
“I’m feeling all right,” he said. “This is playoff basketball. Everybody’s hurting, you just have to keep fighting.”
Hill led the Bucks with 24 points and fellow reserve Brogdon added 20. Center Brook Lopez led the Bucks starters with 16 points.
“I feel like we gave ourselves several chances,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We weren’t able to get over the hump.
“When you have opportunities you’ve got to make them and we didn’t quite make enough of our good ones. I think we’ll be better in game four, Giannis, everybody.”