Saudi Arabia could take advantage of 'huge pressure' on Russia

Juan Antonio Pizzi will lead Saudi Arabia at the World Cup. (AFP)
Updated 14 June 2018
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Saudi Arabia could take advantage of 'huge pressure' on Russia

  • Jose Mourinho feels Russia need to deliver in the opening game
  • Green Falcons are bidding for only their third ever win at the finals

Jose Mourinho believes all the pressure will be on Russia in the World Cup opener against Saudi Arabia.
The hosts last win came on Oct. 7 when they beat South Korea 4-2 in a friendly in Moscow and president Vladimir Putin this week raised the stakes when he said that "our team have not achieved big results in recent times."
Despite being ranked three places lower in the rankings, Russia are favorites for the match at the Luzhniki Stadium and Mourinho, the Manchester United manager, feels they need to deliver in front of an expectant nation.
"There will be huge pressure for Russia," Mourinho said in an interview for RT. "They start the World Cup at home and the world is watching them and the big chance to qualify (for the round of 16) is to beat Saudi Arabia. In spite of some talent Saudi Arabia is a naive team from a different reality and Russia has to win it."
Saudi Arabia go into the game on the back of three straight defeats, but they showed enough in narrow losses to Italy and Germany that they could challenge Russia and Egypt for the runners-up spot behind Group A favorites Uruguay.

This is Saudi Arabia's fifth appearance at the finals and their first since 2006. The high point was a run to the last 16 in 1994 which was achieved on the back of group wins over Morocco and Belgium, the Green Falcons' only wins at the finals in 13 matches. 


'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.