Skipper Osama Hawsawi refuses to admit Saudi’s second-round dream is over

Osama Hawsawi challenges Russia’s Fedor Smolov. Hawsawi has tried to galvanize his teammates by claiming their World Cup is far from over. (AFP)
Updated 16 June 2018
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Skipper Osama Hawsawi refuses to admit Saudi’s second-round dream is over

  • Almost 80,000 fans at the Luzhniki Stadium and 250 million watching around the world saw the Green Falcons grounded in the opening game of the tournament.
  • Osama Hawsawi: “Russia made the most of our errors. Once they scored the second, it was very difficult for us. They then used the space well and we were unable to put them under pressure.”

SAINT PETERSBURG: Shellshocked Saudi Arabia captain Osama Hawsawi has insisted that the team still have what it takes to qualify for the second round despite a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Russia in Thursday’s World Cup opener.
Almost 80,000 fans at the Luzhniki Stadium and 250 million watching around the world saw the Green Falcons grounded in the opening game of the tournament — their first World Cup clash in 12 years.
Thanks to a header from Yuri Gazinsky and a smart finish from Denis Cheryshev the hosts were 2-0 up at the break and, even then, all hope of the victory had gone. Artem Dzyuba headed a third in the second half to leave Cheryshev and Aleksandr Golovin to to complete a miserable evening for Juan Antonio Pizzi’s men.
Speaking a day after the opening-day nightmare Hawsawi admitted that the game, littered with defensive mistakes, did not go to plan.
“Russia made the most of our errors,” the veteran center-back said. “Once they scored the second, it was very difficult for us. They then used the space well and we were unable to put them under pressure.”
It was a deflating experience for a team that had shown signs of improvement under Pizzi in the build-up to the tournament.
Hawsawi insisted, however, that all was not lost with two Group A games remaining. The next test comes against Uruguay in Rostov on Wednesday and then a final showdown with Egypt in Volgograd five days later.
“We still have two games to go,” Hawsawi said.
“We still control our destiny and now we have to focus everything on the next game.”
Fellow veteran Taisir Al-Jassim was sorry for the healthy contingent of Saudi Arabian fans who had made the trip to the Russian capital and for all those watching at home.
“I want to apologize to the fans,” the midfielder said.
“Russia turned up and we didn’t. We had been feeling good in the preparation period and so we really did not expect something like this to happen.”
Like Hawsawi, Al-Jassim is keen to make amends.
“In football, anything can happen. We are determined to turn this around against Uruguay and Egypt.”
The reaction at home, in the newspapers and social media, was severe. In a video posted on social media, Turki Al-Sheikh, the head of the country’s General Sports Authority, criticized the players for not putting in the necessary effort.
That video certainly eased the pressure on Pizzi. But a Saudi Arabia Football Federation executive told Arab News that while a repeat of Carlos Alberto Parreira’s sacking mid-World Cup in 1998 was not going to happen, there had to be an improvement in the next game.
“We had done everything we could to prepare for the tournament,” the official told Arab News.
“It was just one game, however, and we are expecting a much better performance against Uruguay. There is still plenty to play for.”


Afghan refugee Nadia Nadim scales summit of women’s football

Updated 19 March 2019
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Afghan refugee Nadia Nadim scales summit of women’s football

  • Nadim sets sights on women's World Cup glory this summer.
  • Former Afghan refugee plans to become a doctor once she hangs up her boots for good.

PARIS: “I don’t really think about the past and what happened,” says Nadia Nadim, the daughter of an executed Afghan general who spent years playing football in the fields beside her refugee camp before becoming a Denmark international.
“I am fortunate to be in a situation where I can play football and love what I do,” adds Nadim, a 31-year-old forward who recently completed a switch from Manchester City to Paris Saint-Germain.
Her story is a remarkable one. She was barely 10 years old when her father was killed by the Taliban, her family fleeing the war-torn nation and finding a new home in Denmark.
The journey from her home in Herat was a long one, via Pakistan and then on to Italy with the aid of human traffickers in a bid to get to Britain where she had family. Instead they found refuge in Denmark.
“We came to Denmark in 2000 when I was 10 or 11 years old, and we used to be in this camp, and just beside this camp there was these amazing football fields,” Nadim told AFP.
“Every day after school me and other refugee kids used to go and watch these other guys train. One day I asked if I could join in, and the coach was like ‘yeah, of course’,” she explained.
Away from the turmoil of her homeland at that time, her teenage years in Denmark were peaceful and she enjoyed comics, school — and especially sport.
“I feel happy and I feel grateful every day. I am fortunate to be in a situation where I can play football, be the player I want to be and meet new people all the time,” she says.
Nadim, who has embarked on studies to become a surgeon after her football days are over, feels the sport is a wonderful social leveller.
“There were a lot of kids from different areas ... Arabs, Iraqi, Bosnian, Somalian, nobody could speak the language, and no-one spoke English, so the only way we communicated was with the game,” she recalled of her early days in Denmark.
“Everyone was included, nobody would say ‘No’ because you are different ... that is what I still love about the game, everyone can be a part of it. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, Christian or Muslim, it’s a game.”
While women’s equality is relatively advanced in Denmark, Nadim concedes that the situation is far more complicated in Afghanistan.
“In Afghanistan girls are not supposed to do sports, not supposed to wear shorts,” she says.
“But you can use sports to change points of view ... I have seen this myself.
“When I was younger my Mum would be like don’t play football with the boys because the women, my friends, think that there is something else going on.
“I used to hide myself on the street — we used to play street football — because my Mum was like, if they see you they are going to start talking.
“That was so stupid.”
Nadim went on to become a full Denmark international and played in the European championships final in 2017 where she scored the opening goal but could not prevent her side losing 4-2 to the Netherlands.
However, to her enormous chagrin, Denmark did not qualify for the World Cup, which kicks off in France in June.
“I was so disappointed,” she says.
She is circumspect when asked if she thinks the World Cup is going to be a “turning point” for the growth of women’s football.
“I don’t think there’s one tournament or one point that’s going to change everything,” she said. “I don’t think that’s how it works. It’s going to take time, but we’re on the right path.”
When she hangs up her boots, the woman who was forced to flee conflict herself says she hopes to combine her burgeoning medical career with humanitarian work.
“I think Doctors Without Borders do a great job and I’d love to be there for a couple of years to gain experience, but also be in an area where you probably are the only person who can help these people.”