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.”


England’s Oliver Fisher cards first 59 in European Tour history

Updated 21 September 2018
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England’s Oliver Fisher cards first 59 in European Tour history

  • The 30-year-old tapped in for par on the final hole to complete an astonishing 12-under-par round featuring 10 birdies and an eagle
  • Fisher, who was regarded as a possible future star as a teenage amateur, is ranked down at 287 in the world and had missed 11 cuts in his 22 previous events

VILAMOURA: Unheralded Englishman Oliver Fisher fired the first round of 59 in the European Tour’s 46-year history on a remarkable second day of the Portugal Masters on Friday.
The 30-year-old tapped in for par on the final hole to complete an astonishing 12-under-par round featuring 10 birdies and an eagle, after his long birdie putt for a 58 grazed the edge of the hole.
“It feels great, I started great and I kept it going,” Fisher said. “Just pleased I two-putted from 40 feet on the final green.”
Fisher, who was regarded as a possible future star as a teenage amateur, is ranked down at 287 in the world and had missed 11 cuts in his 22 previous events this season.
He also had to battle to save his tour card at the same tournament two years ago, but scaled heights that thousands of players had failed to reach before with his efforts on Friday.
“Two years ago I was on the same green just trying to keep my card, so I was keeping that in the back of my mind and trying to remember that it could be worse,” he added.
Fisher’s round gave him the clubhouse lead on 12-under for the tournament, with the majority of players still on the course.
Two other men had come close to the magical number at the Portugal Masters, with Scott Jamieson and Nicolas Colsaerts both missing putts to break 60 in 2013 and 2014 respectively.