Road to redemption: Juan Antonio Pizzi and Saudi look to next match after Moscow mauling

Yasser Al-Shahrani reacts with despair after the Green Falcons 5-0 loss to hosts Russia. (AFP)
Updated 16 June 2018
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Road to redemption: Juan Antonio Pizzi and Saudi look to next match after Moscow mauling

  • Against the lowest-ranked team at the tournament, it was a display lacking both composure and positional discipline.
  • The Saudi manager must now gather his charges and prepare for Uruguay and their clash in Rostov-on-Don on Wednesday.

MOSCOW: Two hours after the final whistle, the door creaked open and a pair of eyes peeked through. It was a Saudi Arabia press officer checking to see if the swollen mass of media had dispersed. Losing 5-0 to Russia in the World Cup’s opening match in front of 250 million viewers was a nightmare scenario, but with a flight to Saint Petersburg fast approaching, the players could not hide any longer; they were going to have to complete the walk of shame.

Reporters and camera crews had lined up waiting to hear how a match that had been billed as winnable just hours earlier had finished in one of the Green Falcons’ heaviest defeats. With most of Russia’s players having already left, many media had tired of waiting, but a handful remained. And so as Mario Fernandes, the Brazil-born Russian defender, chatted candidly with a phalanx of Portuguese journalists, the Saudi Arabian players traipsed past.

Heads down and headphones in place, they each walked slowly and solemnly without speaking a word. Not one player chose to face the music head-on, they avoided the questions that needed answering. In many ways, it reflected perfectly what had been witnessed on the pitch earlier in the evening.

Against the lowest-ranked team at the tournament, it was a display lacking both composure and positional discipline. The full-backs crept higher up the pitch than all but one teammate; an impotent attack failed to muster a single shot on target; and the central defensive pairing of Osama and Omar Hawsawi will have Uruguay’s Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani licking their lips in anticipation of the next clash.

 

Coach Juan Antonio Pizzi was furious, but spoke calmly to his players at full time. There were no tears in the dressing room, just a feeling of disappointment in their performance. The Argentine told them that the game must now be forgotten. It is time to refocus.

Pizzi later called the performance “shameful,” adding that Russia “really didn’t have to produce a huge effort to win by a landslide.”

“We have studied them and knew them very well,” Pizzi, who also had to field questions about his future, told reporters.

“We knew how they would play. They lose possession of the ball, play cross balls, high passes … I don’t think they have done anything to surprise us.

“They have won by a landslide, but they have won without doing much. It is our poor performance that explains the result.”

Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov said he would “partially concur” with such an assessment.

“Pizzi is a great coach,” he said.

“As to the system and the players, yes, he’s right, no big surprises. (But) he overlooked the fact we showed discipline and maturity.”

Fernandes, still speaking even after all 23 Saudi Arabia players had passed through in silence, said he believed his side had forced the situation. “Saudi Arabia attack a lot, but in defense they are a little vulnerable,” he said.

“We enjoyed that. We worked very hard and knew the importance of winning.

“We played a great game and deserved it. They are not weak. They have played friendlies against big teams and the results have been small. Who made the game become easy was us.”

The Saudi Arabian Football Federation, unlike with Carlos Alberto Parreira who was fired mid-tournament in 1998, have no plans to dismiss Pizzi. In a video posted to social media, Turki Al-Sheikh, the country’s sports minister, absolved both the head coach and team manager Omar Bakhashwain of blame, instead saying the responsibility must fall at his door and that of the players. They watched the video before flying back to their training base in Saint Petersburg. It came as no surprise.

Indeed, when asked whether the team lacked sufficient preparation for the clash, Pizzi replied: “I believe that we were well prepared. We have been preparing for this, and my players have shown they are ready to play a World Cup.

“I can only say what I have said before. This game cannot be the reference. It’s true we have not done what we came here to do. We have not done what we have done in previous matches that gave us good results.”

The Saudi manager must now gather his charges and prepare for Uruguay and their clash in Rostov-on-Don on Wednesday.

“I have seen a development since we started working together,” Pizzi said. “Of course, this game is not the point of reference for me. We did not play as we had planned to. We can and will improve, but it takes time. We have to plan for next game, recover, be positive and try to get a better result.”

Having trained privately in the afternoon, the Saudi players were expected to attend a special Eid dinner in the evening.

Unsurprisingly, there is little celebratory mood in the camp.

FASTFACTS

The 5-0 loss was the Green Falcons’ second-worst defeat at the World Cup after the 8-0 hammering by Germany in 2002.


Godolphin happy with Thunder Snow ahead of Dubai World Cup defense

Updated 25 March 2019
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Godolphin happy with Thunder Snow ahead of Dubai World Cup defense

  • Five-year old bidding to become first horse to win back-to-back Dubai World Cups.
  • $12 million race takes place at Meydan on Saturday.

LONDON: Thunder Snow is preparing well as he bids to become the first horse to win back-to-back Dubai World Cups, according to Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
The five-year-old memorably won the showcase $12 million race at Meydan by five and three-quarter lengths, winning in a track record time last year. He returned to the track on Super Saturday two weeks ago, finishing second in the Group 1 Al-Maktoum Challenge Round Three.
And Godolphin are expecting big things from him in the famous race. Bin Suroor, the most successful handler in the history of the 2000m dirt feature with eight winners to his name, is feeling confident.
“He did his final serious piece of work on Saturday and went very well indeed,” the Godolphin trainer said. “He needed his Super Saturday outing — his first run since November — badly and has come on a lot for it. We expect him to run a big race under conditions we know suit him, but obviously it is a good race.”
Thunder Snow has already made history as the only horse to win both the Group 2 UAE Derby and Group 1 Dubai World Cup, but if he is to win this Saturday then he will be revered for years to come.
One of his big rivals in the race will be Yoshida. Trained by Bill Mott he arrived in Dubai on March 19 in preparation for the cash-rich race. The Japanese-bred son of Heart’s Cry landed in the Emirate off a sixth-place finish in the inaugural Group 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational at Gulfstream Park.
He won the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs, as well as the prestigious Woodward at Saratoga last year and Riley Mott, assistant to his father Bob, said Yoshida is looking good ahead of the big race.
“He’s settled in really well,” he said. “He traveled great and we’re very happy with him. The facilities here are top class. This is my seventh time over here and we’re treated very well.”
Yoshida went out just after 7:00 a.m. in Monday to stretch his legs over the famous dirt track.
“He just had a routine gallop this morning and we let him stand in the gate. Nothing too serious,” Mott said.
Jose Ortiz, who has piloted Yoshida though his last two starts and was aboard for the Grade 1 score at Churchill Downs, will make his first appearance in Dubai. Mott said he expects Ortiz, who guided Yoshida to a closing fourth-place effort in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, will have plenty of options in the 2000m race.
“It sounds like there’s a lot of pace from the local horses, but we have a horse that’s pretty versatile in the way he runs,” Mott said. “He’s able to adapt to the pace scenario. It’s just a matter of how the race develops in front of him.”