Juan Antonio Pizzi confident the real Saudi Arabia will turn up to face Uruguay in crunch World Cup clash

Juan Antonio Pizzi and his Saudi Arabia team will on Wednesday return to the international spotlight keen to put the events of the past seven days behind them. (AFP)
Updated 20 June 2018
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Juan Antonio Pizzi confident the real Saudi Arabia will turn up to face Uruguay in crunch World Cup clash

ROSTOV-ON-DON: Following a white-knuckle week of hand-wringing, Juan Antonio Pizzi and his Saudi Arabia team will on Wednesday return to the international spotlight keen to put the events of the past seven days behind them and demonstrate to the world an improved image of team. 
The Green Falcons were humiliated 5-0 by hosts Russia in the opening match of the World Cup last Thursday, prompting much criticism from their own football federation and the country’s General Sports Authority. Then, after leaving their base in Saint Petersburg for Rostov-on-Don where they will meet Uruguay in their second Group A match, a technical fault aboard their plane caused an engine to catch fire as it prepared to land. 
Pizzi, playing down the incident and insisting it has not affected their preparations, said expectations have had to be recalibrated after last week’s defeat. He made a point in stressing that the result is less important than the performance and insisted he trusts his players to demonstrate their true level against a Uruguay side boasting world-class players such as Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez. 
“We have an opportunity to try and turn around our results so far,” Pizzi said.
“Our performance against Russia was not what we expected nor wanted. Against Uruguay, we need to try to match the level of our opponents and try to win it. But we have other priorities that are more important than worrying about Suarez and Cavani. We have to show that we deserve to be here.
“As for the events (with the plane), we have had no further information. There was no panic; we were not afraid. We fully trust the pilot, staff and plane. The pictures point to something else, but we were very calm and it will not effect our performance.”
After the Russia match, Turki Al-Sheikh, the head of the General Sports Authority of Saudi Arabia, called it a “fiasco,” and criticized the players, but refused to blame Pizzi. Asked for his thoughts on Al-Sheikh’s comments, Pizzi preferred to focus on the next game.
“I really do not want to have an opinion on what people say,” he said. “We too are being very critical about our first match. I am the top person in charge here and want to change the perception people now have of this team. It is clear in my mind, these players have demonstrated to me that they can compete. We have played games against some very strong teams and in almost all of them we have shown a level of competitiveness.
“We have to demonstrate that we have the ability to compete, especially against a team that is combative. We have to compete with the same energy as them and that is what we will try to do.” 
Midfielder Taiser Al-Jassem reiterated his coach’s words, insisting that he and his teammates are focused solely on righting last week’s wrong. Everything that has gone before is forgotten.
“We were all very upset after the Russia game,” he said. “We are all determined to change this image because it is not the true image of Saudi football, Saudi players. We want to make our country proud. It’s the scoreboard that wins the day. We have encountered similar problems in the past but we need to forget this and focus on the next game. We are all very anxious to change this image.”
While Pizzi played a very attack-minded side in the opening game, it is widely accepted that Uruguay — ranked 14th in the world — could wreck havoc if given space in front of goal. With that in mind, he is expected to call upon Abdulmalek Al-Khaibri to sit in front of his four-man defense. Fahad Al-Muwallad may also be given a starting berth in place of Mohammed Al-Sahlawi, despite some players making it known they feel more comfortable playing behind the veteran striker. 
“Tactics, strategy, system, individual qualities … we have different priorities,” Pizzi concluded.
“Uruguay are a very difficult team with players who are world class. But I want to reiterate that it’s not about our players. I just want to see a competitive performance on the pitch. We want to show that we can be competitive and have the ability to compete at a World Cup. That is the priority.”


Al-Hilal fine tune preparations in Austria and integrate new boy Andre Carrillo

Updated 4 min 51 sec ago
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Al-Hilal fine tune preparations in Austria and integrate new boy Andre Carrillo

  • Saudi champions play Slovenia’s NK Kalcer Radomlje on Sunday
  • Peru World Cup star Carrillo has trained with his new teammates

LONDON: “So far, so good.” That is the message coming out of the Al-Hilal ranks as the Saudi Arabia champions start their preparations for the 2018-19 Saudi Pro League season at a training camp in Austria.
Within the first week of their arrival in Europe, the defending champions have welcomed their 2018 World Cup contingent back to action, have strengthened their ranks with a high-profile international signing and won their first warm-up match with plenty to spare.
New coach Jorge Jesus is happy with the way it is all going ahead of the big kick-off next month.
“It is good to be here as the temperatures are much better for playing football,” Jesus, who was appointed in June, told Portuguese television. “It’s cooler here than back in Saudi Arabia with temperatures there over 40 degrees. Everything is going well, the players are training hard and we are working to be ready for the new season.”
The Riyadh giants have been training in Europe for a week and kicked off their build-up with a 5-0 thrashing of local team Rapid Lienz on Thursday. The scoreline included a brace from Brazilian midfielder Carlos Eduardo and a strike from Syrian forward Omar Khribin. Both stars missed large parts of last season with injury.
Ali Al-Habsi was between the sticks in that victory over the Austrians and enjoyed a quiet afternoon.
“We are still getting accustomed to the new coach as every coach has his own style,” the former English Premier League star said. “The coach’s style is different and we will get to know him at this training camp and all has been going well so far.
“We have been focusing on defensive organization and also trying to improve our attacking play and we know that we still have a lot of work to do.”
On Thursday, the defending champions welcomed back seven of their Saudi Arabia internationals from Russia. As well as Salem Al-Dawsari, who scored the last-minute goal against Egypt on June 25 to give the country a first World Cup win since 1994, Abdullah Otayf, Yasser Al-Shahrani, Salman Al-Faraj, Mohamed Kanoo, Ali Al-Bulaihi and goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf are now in full training.
They have been joined by a new arrival in the shape of Peruvian international Andre Carillo on a one-year deal from Benfica. The winger, who previously worked with Jesus at Sporting Lisbon and spent last season on loan in the English Premier League with Watford, should add firepower to the two-time continental champions.


“This is a new stage and challenge in my career,” said the 27-year-old who scored for Peru against Australia in the 2018 World Cup to give the South Americans their first win on the global stage since 1978. “I am ready for the challenge and would like to thank (Al-Hilal president) Sami Al-Jaber for believing in me.”
Coach Jesus is pleased with his new signing. “It is not always easy to convince top international players to come but he agreed and is excited to show what he can do,” he said. “I know Carillo well and asked him to come and join me. I am sure that he will fit in well with his new team.”
Al-Hilal continue their preparations with a clash with Slovenia’s NK Kalcer Radomlje on Sunday. Then come games with Fortuna Dusseldorf of Germany, Turkish team Akhisarspor and then a final European test against Serie A side Udinese.