‘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
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‘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.


Maria Sharapova looks back to her best as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal show no signs of slowing down

Updated 18 January 2019
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Maria Sharapova looks back to her best as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal show no signs of slowing down

  • Sharapova dumps out defending champion Caroline Wozniacki.
  • Rafa and Roger brush aside young guns in straight sets victories.

LONDON: It is coming up to the end of the first week of the Australian Open, so we thought we would take a look and see how some of the big names fared on day five of the year’s first Grand Slam.

MARIA SHARAPOVA

Maria Sharapova warned she is in the sort of form to win the Australian Open after she dumped Carolina Wozniacki out with an impressive 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win. It was the Russian’s best win since her return from a drugs ban and she looked like a winner-in-waiting.
“I thought the level was quite high. I knew I’d get a tough match — she (Wozniacki) is the defending champion,” the five-time Slam champion said.
“I haven’t played many matches in the last year against top players so it was really rewarding to win that last set. These are the kinds of matches I train for.”



ROGER FEDERER

Ageless Roger Federer marked his 100th Rod Laver Arena match Friday by storming past Taylor Fritz, then looked forward to a “high quality” last-16 clash against another young gun, Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion continued his quest for a record seventh Australian Open title with a 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 third-round demolition of 21-year-old American Fritz in just 88 minutes of flawless tennis.
Next up is 14th seed Tsitsipas. And the 37-year-old Federer is looking forward to taking on the fiery young Greek, who is 17 years his junior.
Federer played him in the recent mixed teams Hopman Cup, winning a closely contested singles 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/4), and said he was impressed.
“I think he played really well there. I actually did too. I thought it was really high quality tennis,” Federer said.
“This is obviously a different type of match, it being best of five, it being a fourth round of a Slam.”



RAFAEL NADAL

Rafael Nadal declared “everything is a step forward” after brutally brushing aside Alex de Minaur at the Australian Open Friday in just the Spaniard’s third match since the US Open.
The world No. 2 was in ominous form as he continued his quest for an 18th Grand Slam by punishing the Australian teenager in a third-round tennis masterclass 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
“In general terms, everything is a step forward. So that’s positive news for me,” said the man who won the Aussie Open in 2009.
“I’m very happy for the victory against someone who had won seven matches in a row, winning a tournament.”
On his fitness Nadal added: “Probably 10 years ago it would have been difficult not playing much tennis in the build-up but now I have been in this situation many times with the injuries I have had.
“I have to deal with the ups and downs of my body but I try to enjoy any moment on the court.”



MARIN CILIC

The former US Open champions was made to work for his place in the last 16 as he struggled to beat Fernando Verdasco 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6, 6-3. Verdasco showed glimpses of the form that once made him a top-10 player and had a match point, one he frittered away with a double fault.
I was just slightly luckier in those crucial moments,” the sixth-seeded Cilic said.
“(It is) unbelievable. Emotions were up and down,” Cilic said.
“When I was down two sets to none, it was a big hill to climb.”
It’s the seventh time in Cilic’s career that he has emerged to win a match after dropping the opening two sets.



ANGELIQUE KERBER

Second seed Kerber received a gift ride into the Australian Open fourth round for her 31st birthday when she overpowered local wildcard Kimberly Birrell 6-1, 6-0.
The Wimbledon champion swept world No. 240 Birrell aside in just 58 minutes to set up a last-16 clash with unseeded American Danielle Collins.
Kerber, a winner at Melbourne Park in 2016, said she was used to celebrating her birthday on the road at the season-opening Grand Slam.
“I think it’s the 12th time in a row,” she said. “I’m getting older but I have the best time here and I’ll never forget my birthdays here in Australia.”
Kerber reached the semifinals last year but lost to Simona Halep in a tight three-setter.