‘Saudi Arabia must be Brave,’ says former Green Falcons boss Marcos Paqueta

Marcos Paqueta was in charge of Saudi Arabia the last time they played at the World Cup, in Germany 2006.
Updated 13 June 2018

‘Saudi Arabia must be Brave,’ says former Green Falcons boss Marcos Paqueta

  • Former boss backs side to make it to knockout stages if they play without fear.
  • Paqueta led Saudi Arabia at their last World Cup, 12 years ago.

MOSCOW: Marcos Paqueta is the last man to lead Saudi Arabia at a World Cup. The Brazilian, who took the reins ahead of the 2006 tournament after guiding Al-Hilal to a second-placed finish in the Saudi Professional League, speaks to Arab News about the challenges of coaching the Green Falcons, the perils of being a coach, and his thoughts on the side’s chances ahead of today’s opener in Russia.

Just like current manager Juan Antonio Pizzi, you were brought in after the team had already qualified for the World Cup. What are your memories of that 2006 tournament?

For me, it was a great accomplishment to have participated in a World Cup. The squad arrived after a very troubled World Cup in 2002 with some big defeats, such as the 8-0 against Germany. There was a very depressed and fearful feeling in the camp, but we took the players to a psychologist, who helped change that. It was cool and actually quite a smooth process because I previously worked at Al-Hilal and that season we had enjoyed some success, so we had around 10 Hilal players in the squad. The way they played was 4-4-2 and the way I played was 4-5-1, so on a tactical level, it was close to a perfect fit too. The only real concern, even from the federation, was psychological.

It is rare for a country to let a coach go after he qualifies for a World Cup, yet Saudi Arabia did it in 2006 with Gabriel Calderon and last year with Bert van Marwijk. What do you make of the pressures on modern-day coaches?

Ahead of the World Cup, we played many strong matches: Against Poland, against Greece, who were European champions, against Portugal. The results were not good, but the experience gained was. The team held their own against these teams, so we got rid of the fear of a thrashing and built confidence. The current Saudi team seem to have tried a similar tactic. Nowadays though, with the Internet, 24-hour news, social media it all heightens the pressure and speeds up the process. And it’s the coach who pays the price. I’ve coached in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Libya, Egypt, Iraq … it happens a lot in the Arab world. Everyone has a voice and if people let themselves get carriedaway, they can be led by others.

What do you make of the current team? You are back in Brazil now, but have you had a chance to watch them at all recently? Who do you think will qualify from Group A?

Yes, I always follow my former teams. We still have a good relationship there in Saudi Arabia. The team is in a difficult group, no doubt; a group that also includes a Red Sea derby. For me, it is the Egypt game that will decide who qualifies. We know that Uruguay and Egypt are very strong with many players playing abroad, which is important, but Russia are hosts and to play at home brings a lot of pressure. Saudi Arabia can benefit. It is a difficult group to predict, but the first phase of a World Cup is when teams take a little more risk. It’s hard to say which team will qualify, but Saudi Arabia must be brave.

Your team in 2006 played against Tunisia, this year Saudi Arabia will play Egypt. Did you feel extra pressure in the match against regional neighbors? Were the players more motivated? 

This type of rivalry will always exist in the Arab countries and the Tunisia game was a very well-fought match — 90 minutes full of soul and emotions. With two minutes to go, we were winning 2-1 and getting our campaign off to a great start. But there was something missing from the maturity of the players and we were unable to secure the positive result. This year, well, Egypt has a very big rivalry with Saudi Arabia and with Mohamed Salah, they have a player who can change a game. He has plenty of experience. It will be a very well-played match though; a very interesting game. For sure, there is no chance I will miss it.

Ali Al-Habsi confident of prolonged Al-Hilal success under Jorge Jesus after Super Cup win

Updated 19 August 2018

Ali Al-Habsi confident of prolonged Al-Hilal success under Jorge Jesus after Super Cup win

  • Eduardo had been absent since December after suffering the dreaded cruciate knee ligament injury
  • He made his competitive comeback against Al-Shabab on Sunday but announced his full return to form and fitness against Al-Ittihad in London

LONDON: Ali Al-Hasbi was thrilled Carlos Eduardo emerged as the star of the Saudi Super Cup final, believing his goal was a fitting reward for the torment he went through during his spell out injured.
Eduardo had been absent since December after suffering the dreaded cruciate knee ligament injury in the first leg of the AFC Champions League final with Urawa Reds.
He had a complex operation in Brazil and has spent this year building up the strength in his knee with some long and lonely hours in the gym.
He made his competitive comeback against Al-Shabab on Sunday but announced his full return to form and fitness against Al-Ittihad in London on Saturday night, scoring the first in a 2-1 win over the Tigers.
The nature of his celebration – a double knee slide to the corner – demonstrated the confidence he now has in the joint and the relief that his injury hell is over.
“It’s fantastic for him,” Al-Habsi, the Omani goalkeeper, told Arab News as he did a lap of honor with the trophy around the pitch.
“He has been out for seven months and to come back, play like that, score a goal is fantastic. It’s unbelievable as it was a bad injury and he had to work really hard to recover.”
Gelmin Rivas got the second goal to ensure Jorge Jesus launched his reign as coach by winning the Saudi Super Cup, making a statement in the process that Al-Hilal will again be the team to beat this season.
“It’s fantastic to get a start like this,” said Al-Habsi. “It’s a brilliant to win a derby game and it’s always tough against them. We have made the fans very happy and we can now push for the start of the season. I believe we can win a lot of trophies if we can push hard.”
Jesus came in to replace Ramon Diaz who, ironically, was in charge of Al-Ittihad on Saturday night. Jesus won everything in Portugal and he is expected to deliver similar success at Al-Hilal.
“He’s been fantastic since he has come in,” said Al-Habsi. “We did some good work with him in Austria, he has got some good ideas and I think we are going to do well under him. It’s the perfect start that we won this trophy under him.”
Al-Habsi turns 37 in December and this is his 20th season as a professional, but he is showing no signs of aging and looks set to start the season as No. 1 ahead of Abdullah Al-Mayouf.
“I still feel very good,” he said. “I feel very fit and I am very pleased. I’m really enjoying life at Al-Hilal. It’s a massive club.”
The game in Loftus Road, in front of more than 16,000 boisterous fans, was quite the introduction to football in Saudi Arabia for Aleksandar Pesic. The Serbian arrived at Al-Ittihad this summer from Red Star Belgrade and he made a difference after coming on as a half-time substitute.
“The first half we didn’t play very well but we were more attacking in the second half after the coach changed things,” he told Arab News. “But we conceded two goals because of mistakes. But this is football. It was a very strong game.”
Al-Ittihad finished ninth last season but they should be aiming much higher than that this season on the evidence of things against Al-Hilal.
“If we play like this in the league, I think we will have a good chance for the championship,” Pesic said. “Maybe we win, maybe we lose but we will always give 100 percent, then I believe we can do good things. We will try to be champions.”
It will be a tough ask to finish ahead of Al-Hilal, though. They won the league last season and look even stronger following the additions of Alberto Botia, Andre Carrillo and Omar Abdulrahman.
“It’s a very good team, a very compact team with a good coach and good players,” said Pesic. “They are very tough to play against and I’m sure they will have a strong season.”