‘Nothing is impossible’ says Osama Hawsawi ahead of Saudi Arabia’s World Cup opener against Russia

Juan Antonio Pizzi and his skipper Osama Hawsawi were in relaxed mood in Moscow.
Updated 13 June 2018
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‘Nothing is impossible’ says Osama Hawsawi ahead of Saudi Arabia’s World Cup opener against Russia

  • Coach and caption in relaxed, confident mood ahead of Moscow opener.
  • Squad excited to play against hosts and get their campaign started.

MOSCOW: Ambitious, excited and intent on victory. Coach Juan Antonio Pizzi has the perfect plan to lead Saudi Arabia to three points in the opening game of the World Cup against hosts Russia this evening at Luzhniki Stadium: Capitalize on their opponent’s weaknesses, control their strengths, and enjoy the experience.
On the eve of Saudi Arabia’s first World Cup match since 2006, the Argentine said his inexperienced side are feeling confident as they prepare to face a Russia team under intense pressure to perform. Since the World Cup was first held in 1930, a host nation has never lost the opening match, but Pizzi’s team arrived in Moscow with one objective: Victory.
“I am extremely excited to play the opening match,” said Pizzi, who is coaching at the World Cup for the first time.
“There are very few opportunities in life to live this type of event. We have been the chosen ones. We have great enthusiasm and want to do our best, give our everything to try to satisfy and make Saudi citizens happy. I’m sure that will be the case. Our ambition is to beat Russia.”
After two months in which he has managed to keep his squad largely out of the limelight with training camps in southern Spain and rural Switzerland, Pizzi was yesterday called upon by FIFA to address the world’s media alongside captain Osama Hawsawi ahead of the much-anticipated curtain-raiser. 
Speaking in rapid Spanish, the 50-year-old described his football philosophy, discussed his plans to combat his opponent’s game-plan, and dismissed suggestions external pressure will impact the match. The team, he said, is focusing completely and absolutely on the first game and nothing else.
“My style is that of competing,” said Pizzi. “We want to compete for every single ball, tackle every situation on the pitch, and try to have a winning style. We want to be better physically, tactically, and in terms of technique. We want to be the best. I am in favor of being under the spotlight. That is what I have always tried to do as a manager and that is what I am trying to convey to my players.
“We are super-focused and believe that the only way we can achieve success is to really focus on each of the matches that we have to play.
“So, right now, the only thing on my mind is the match against Russia. For now, that is the most difficult game we are going to face at this World Cup. We know perfectly well how Russia is going to play against us. We will try to capitalize; to exploit their shortcomings and use all our tools to counteract their virtues, of which there are many.”
Hawsawi, the veteran center-back who has benefitted from Pizzi’s emphasis on fitness, said he and his teammates are living a dream. Before addressing the media, the 34-year-old Al-Hilal defender took a moment to savour the cauldron-like Luzhniki Stadium, taking selfies and videos from the pitch. 
 “Every player in the world wishes to play in the World Cup,” said Hawsawi, who will lead his country out in front of 81,000 fans this evening.
“We have to do our best and progressing to the next stage is not impossible.
“There are so many unpredictable things that can happen at a World Cup. We are focused now on the opening game and that will set the tone for the other matches. We are playing the hosts and are very ambitious. Like all the squads, we want to qualify for the finals if we can. Nothing is impossible.”


'We want to make Saudi Arabia proud': Pizzi promises better showing against Egypt

Updated 21 June 2018
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'We want to make Saudi Arabia proud': Pizzi promises better showing against Egypt

  • Saudi Arabia cannot progress from Group A even if they defeat Egypt in their final game on Monday
  • Wednesday’s overall performance was much improved, yet a lack of penetrative passing was obvious

ROSTOV-ON-DON: “Keeping possession of the ball seems to be the absolute and most important thing, but then when you sometimes find issues in getting the ball into your opponent’s half, you have to find other movements and ways of doing that,” said Oscar Tabarez after watching his lackluster Uruguay rely on a solitary Luis Suarez goal to eliminate Saudi Arabia from the World Cup. 
Tabarez was talking about his own team’s struggles, yet the assessment is considerably more applicable to the Green Falcons, who dominated possession and retained the ball with ease in midfield, yet for the second match running looked absolutely bereft of ideas in the final third. With Uruguay and Russia now on six points, Saudi Arabia cannot progress from Group A even if they defeat Egypt in their final game on Monday.
The Green Falcons coach Juan Antonio Pizzi confirmed he intends to stay at the helm of the side for the long-haul, yet is only too aware that the potential of this team is being hamstrung by its inability to score. He called it “our weakness”, adding that his side enjoyed “good ball possession, but no effectiveness”. They, he said, did not have the sufficient “weapons or tools” to equalize.
Pizzi’s side have found the net now just twice in their past five games and against Uruguay managed only three shots on target in 90 minutes — two of which came in added time and were so tame they would hardly have troubled the opposition goalkeeper Fernando Muslera had he been relaxing at his far post sipping a drink. In the 5-0 defeat to Russia last week, they failed to muster a single shot on target. 
Wednesday’s overall performance was much improved, yet a lack of penetrative passing was obvious. One passage of play in the opening exchanges saw Saudi Arabia complete 16 passes untroubled without the ball entering the opposition penalty box. When Uruguay finally won possession, they required only four quick exchanges to find Edinson Cavani on the left wing drilling the ball across the front of goal. 
“I don’t share that assessment,” said Pizzi, when it was put to him that his team was too slow to attack. “We played at the speed that was necessary. We need to be accurate, but if you step up the speed you lose accuracy with your passes. We had control of the game and that was why.”
Striker Mohammed Al-Sahlawi had been the focal point of much criticism from Turki Al-Sheikh, the head of Saudi’s General Sports Authority, after the Russia “fiasco” and was dropped from the side against Uruguay. So too was goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf, another who Al-Sheikh name-checked as having been at fault.
Pizzi, asked whether the scathing assessment from his bosses had forced his hand when it came to team selection, calmly dismissed the suggestion. He also ruled out the notion that administrative issues between the players and the country’s football federation had caused unrest in his squad.
“I have a list of 23 players here and they are all available to play. We are here together and pushing in the same direction. 
“I wanted — and still want — to make the Saudi Arabian people feel proud of our energy and the desire we show in matches. Unfortunately we were unable to do that against Russia and will be playing our next match without any hope of progressing. I hope now they will feel a little more proud even though we are out of the World Cup,” he said.