Saudi Arabia World Cup campaign on the brink after Russia rout Green Falcons 5-0

Russia defender Andrey Semenov celebrates his team's fourth goal as Saudi Arabia's Mohammed Al-Breik looks on. (AFP)
Updated 15 June 2018
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Saudi Arabia World Cup campaign on the brink after Russia rout Green Falcons 5-0

  • Green Falcons enjoy 61 percent possession but ship five goals
  • The team suffer their second heaviest defeat in World Cup finals history

Saudi Arabia went into the match three places higher than Russia in the FIFA rankings and confident they could get the win that would hopefully set up a place in the knockout stage. 

It took just 45 minutes for both states of affairs to be shown up as fanciful in the extreme. In terms of what Juan Antonio Pizzi would have wanted to avoid in the first half — not giving possession away, remaining calm in defence, and keeping a cleansheet — it is fair to say it could not have gone much worse.

Goals from Yuri Gazinskiy and Denis Cheryshev during the first period laid bare the gulf in class and a Artem Dzyuba strike, another from Cheryshev and a Aleksandr Golovin free-kick in the second period was no more than the hosts deserved. 

The Green Falcons come into the match on the back of three straight defeats — to Germany, Italy and Peru. But there were enough positives from those matches for the side to take the field today hopeful they could upset their Russian hosts. That was not a bad attitude considering Russia went into the clash winless in seven matches. 

But after the opening cagey exchanges — during which neither side committed men forward in any numbers — Stanislav Cherchesov’s side betrayed any nerves they may have been feeling and grew in confidence, finding space between the Saudi Arabia midfield and defence with too much ease. 

If that annoyed Pizzi then there’s little doubt the way the opener came would have dismayed him more. Golovin put in an in-swinging cross that should have been dealt with by the Green Falcons’ defence, but Osama Hawsawi and Co were statuesque as Yuri Gazinskiy headed past the stranded Abdullah Al-Muaiouf in the Saudi goal. 

It was the perfect nerve-settler for the hosts and just the start the cautious Pizzi was wanting to avoid. 

It may have only been the 11th minute but the goal had been coming and soon after Russia almost got a second. Fedor Smolov’s shot was deflected and looped into the air, but Al-Muaiouf managed to claw it away. 

On the odd occasion Saudi Arabia did get into the final third Mohammed Al-Sahlawi looked isolated, in stark contrast to the Russians who attacked on the counter and in increasing numbers. 

The lack of composure on the ball and, even more glaringly, a holding midfielder was all too clear to see. Both combined to gift Russia their two-goal cushion heading into the break. 

The Green Falcons lost the ball in their own half, the hosts broke from deep with Roman Zobnin playing in Denis Cheryshev, who showed two good feet to dink it over the sliding body of Mohammed Al-Burayk before smashing high past Al-Muaiouf. 

It was all too easy for the side that had been written off by a lot of their fans before the kick-off, but the 2-0 scoreline did not flatter the hosts. 

After the break it was much the same story. Saudi Arabia looking comfortable in possession but played everything in front of the Russia backline and were unable to hurt them — a Salman Al-Faraj header that drifted wide of the post the most they had too show for all their forays into the Russian half. 

When substitute Dzyuba headed in Russia's third with just his second touch, the worry was that it would signal for the floodgates to open. Those fears were well founded as, on 90 minutes, Cheryshev found himslef on the edge of the box before hitting an absolutely fine shot on the outside of his foot which flew high into the back of the net.

Just four minutes later Golovin scored with a brilliant free-kick, the ease with which he stroked the ball matched only by the ease with which the Russians found space throughout the 90 minutes.

Saudi Arabia went into the match with hope, they walked off the pitch in despair knowing the second round is all but now out of reach for them. They now have four days to pick themselves up and prepare for their next clash against group favorites Uruguay, who get their campaign started against Egypt today. 


Al-Nassr ready to challenge for title after signing Brazilian Giuliano

Updated 21 August 2018
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Al-Nassr ready to challenge for title after signing Brazilian Giuliano

  • Riyadh club have not won the title since 2015 and have set their stall out to win it for the ninth time.
  • Brazilian Giuliano is the latest star to sign for Al-Nassr, joining Nigeria international Ahmed Musa.

LONDON: Al-Nassr are ready to challenge for the Saudi Pro League title after a busy summer in the transfer market and elsewhere. That is the message from the Riyadh club who have their sights set on reclaiming the title they last won in 2015.
The side finished third last season but under the energetic leadership of new president Saud Al-Suwailem, the eight time champions ended the transfer window on Monday by confirming the signing of former 
Brazilian international Giuliano from 
Fenerbahce for a fee of €10 million ($11.5 million).
It is the second biggest deal that Al-Nassr have done since the end of last season after the Ahmed Musa transfer, the Nigerian international arriving in early August from Leicester City Premier League. And having seen the 28-year-old attacking midfielder score 14 goals in the Turkish league last season, the club feel Giuliano is a great addition to their expanding squad.
Not only that, the club has brought in former Liverpool and Feyenoord goalkeeper Brad Jones, former Watford star and Morocco international Nordin Amrabat, Peru international defender Christian Ramos and also welcome back Saudi star Yahya Al-Shehri from his loan in Spain.
“We are very happy with the squad going into the new season,” an Al-Nassr official told Arab News.
“It was already a good one but we have strengthened in every area and especially have added some very exciting attacking players. If the coach can get the new signings to settle quickly then we could have a good season.”
There is no automatic demand for the title but an improvement on last season when Al-Nassr finished 12 points behind champions and Riyadh rivals Al-Hilal is required.
“We know that it won’t be easy as the top teams all look to be stronger after spending on some good talent from overseas,” added the official.
“We want to be challenging for the title, that is where we should be. It helps that we also have a coach that has done it before.”
For Al-Nassr, the return of Jose Daniel Carreno could be a game-changer. The Uruguayan tactician had a successful spell with the club and lifted the 2013 league title and the Crown Prince Cup in the same year. He returned to the club in March and his knowledge of Al-Nassr and the league is seen as vital.
“I think the changes to the team have been of great benefit,” Carreno said after last week’s 2-1 win at UAE side Al-Jazira in the Arab Champions Cup. “We have more firepower going forward and we will look to be aggressive and put teams on the backfoot, and press higher up the pitch than before.
“There is still work to do but we are moving to where we want to be. The league is going to be tough this time with Al-Hilal looking strong and signing players, and Al-Ittihad will not have the kind of season they had last time but we are looking forward to the challenge.”
There have been developments off the pitch too. President Al-Suwailem was appointed in April and has been working hard to improve standards at the club and increase revenues.
Earlier this month, the president went to the UAE to sign a four year sponsorship deal with Etihad Airlines that is reportedly worth SR50 million ($13.34 million) a year.
“There is more energy at all levels of the club,” said the official.
“Of course, it depends on what happens when the season starts but we can’t wait for the season to start.”