Frans Hoek, Juan Antonio Pizzi hoping Saudi Arabia defense can save the day in Uruguay clash

Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf said he was ready for the Uruguay challenge. (AFP)
Updated 20 June 2018

Frans Hoek, Juan Antonio Pizzi hoping Saudi Arabia defense can save the day in Uruguay clash

  • Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf recently said "strikers are annoying"
  • On Wednesday against Uruguay, he and the rest of the Green Falcons are expected to face two of the world’s very best in Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez

ROSTOV: “Strikers are annoying,” said Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf recently. On Wednesday against Uruguay, he and the rest of the Green Falcons are expected to face two of the world’s very best in Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez. And having conceded five goals against Russia, the man between the Saudi Arabia sticks is expected to be busier than ever.

Al-Mayouf, however, will take comfort from the fact that he has been preparing with one of the most respected goalkeeper coaches in the world. Frans Hoek has been working with the Green Falcons since the start of March, arriving with a CV that includes spells at Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United. This is the 61-year-old Dutchman’s third World Cup after working with Poland in 2006 and the Netherlands in 2014.

Hoek, who has worked with keepers of the quality of Victor Valdes, Edwin van der Sar and David de Gea, has said in the past that the ideal goalkeeper must be taller than 1.85 meters, ambitious, disciplined and extremely coachable. 

Under the guidance of Hoek, coach Juan Antonio Pizzi experimented with six different options during his seven months in charge ahead of the World Cup. Al-Mayouf, at 1.78 meters, is the smallest of the three goalkeepers to travel to Russia, yet is expected to get the nod ahead of Yasser Al-Mosailem and the Al-Ahli veteran’s domestic teammate Mohammed Al-Owais. 

The decision to start Al-Mayouf in Moscow last Thursday raised eyebrows back home. The 31-year-old had not had an outstanding season with Al-Hilal, being pinpointed by Urawa Reds coach Takafumi Hori as one of the Saudi Arabia club side’s weak spots ahead of the Asian Champions League final last November. He also struggled in the Green Falcons’ 3-0 friendly defeat against Peru earlier this month, although did win man of the match in the 2-1 defeat to Germany a few days later. 

During training, Hoek — who has a Masters degree in Physical Education — initially works with the three goalkeepers away from the rest of the squad, testing their reactions from close range and running repetition drills in which they must leap and collect a ball at their highest point. Later, they are integrated into the group as the Dutchman not only believes games are best practice, but also acknowledges the modern game demands a goalkeeper to be much more than a safe pair of hands. 

“It’s more and more integrated in the team because the goalkeeper is part of that team,” Hoek said. “He is never alone, always with his teammates, and he has to perform with them against other players, so you need to prepare him for that.”

While Al-Mosailem praised Hoek as a “great coach, very well known in Europe” and revealed the coach had been “focussing on many things with us, particularly technical,” the message of goalkeeper-as-team-player seems to have been drilled into Al-Mayouf, who said he believes “the keeper is considered half of the team.”

Although Al-Mayouf regularly shows good reactions from close range, he struggles at times against shots from distance, which has routinely proved itself a problem for Saudi Arabia under Pizzi. Russia’s final goal, a fine free-kick from Aleksandr Golovin, appeared to catch him off guard, forcing him to scurry unsuccessfully toward his left upright. It is something Hoek has been working on this week. 

“Not the result we wanted,” the Dutchman wrote on social media. 

“Not the way of playing we wanted. Not what we expected. Not what we worked hard for together. We are all disappointed. But this is sport. We have to pick up the pieces, work hard and focus on the next game. That’s what we will do.”

The next game is against a side that finished behind only Brazil in South American qualifying, scoring 32 times in 18 games. Cavani, the Paris Saint-Germain forward, also finished qualifying as the region’s top scorer with 10, three more than Lionel Messi and Gabriel Jesus and five more than his Uruguay teammate Luis Suarez.

The pair have the potential to be very “annoying” when the Green Falcons face Uruguay in Rostov-on-Don, but whoever stands between the posts will take confidence from the fact they have been as well prepared as is possible.

“The secret behind a goalkeeper’s successful performance after disappointment is determination and discipline in training,” said Al-Mosailem. “If you train well, you will get a chance to prove yourself again.”

Ozil’s resignation sparks Germany racism storm as Ankara cheers

Updated 23 July 2018

Ozil’s resignation sparks Germany racism storm as Ankara cheers

  • After months of silence over a controversial photograph with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May Ozil erupted on Sunday
  • The Arsenal midfielder posted a stinging four-page statement taking aim at German Football Association (DFB) bosses sponsors and the media

BERLIN: Mesut Ozil’s decision to quit playing for Germany unleashed a racism storm in Berlin on Monday, but earned the applause of Ankara with a Turkish minister hailing “a goal against the virus of fascism.”
After months of silence over a controversial photograph with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May, which sparked questions about his loyalty to Germany, Ozil erupted on Sunday.
The Arsenal midfielder posted a stinging four-page statement taking aim at German Football Association (DFB) bosses, sponsors and the media.
Ozil, a key member of the squad which won the 2014 World Cup, blamed the DFB management, in particular its president Reinhard Grindel, for failing to side with him against his critics.
“In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,” Ozil wrote.
The 29-year-old said he was true to both his Turkish and German origins and insisted he did not intend to make a political statement by appearing with Erdogan just before the World Cup finals.
“I have two hearts, one German and one Turkish,” said Ozil, who was repeatedly singled out for criticism after Germany’s woeful performance at the World Cup saw them crash out after the group stages.
Ozil’s explosive statement, in three separate postings on Twitter and Instagram, was hailed by Erdogan’s government, which has championed a campaign against what Ankara sees as growing Islamophobia in Europe.
“I congratulate Mesut Ozil who by leaving the national team has scored the most beautiful goal against the virus of fascism,” Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul wrote on Twitter.
But it was met with a mix of dismay and outrage in Germany. The German Football Association (DFB) rejected claims of racism made by Mesut Ozil against their president Reinhard Grindel in an angry resignation letter.
“We reject the notion that the DFB is associated with racism,” read a statement.
“The DFB stands for diversity, from the representatives at the top to the boundless, day-to-day dedication of people at the base.”
Underlining that sports brings a lot to integration in a country, Chancellor Angela Merkel said she respects Ozil’s decision.
“The chancellor values Mesut Ozil highly. He is a great footballer who has contributed a great deal to the national team,” said Merkel’s spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer, adding that he has “now made a decision that must be respected.”
Justice Minister Katarina Barley wrote on Twitter that it was an “alarm bell if a great German footballer like Mesut Ozil no longer feels wanted in his country or represented by the DFB.”
Cem Ozdemir of the Greens party also voiced dismay that “young German-Turks now get the impression that they have no place in the German national team.”
At the same time, Ozdemir, who himself has Turkish roots, said Ozil “did not live up to his function of setting examples” by failing to distance himself from the hard-line Turkish leader.
Germany’s best-selling newspaper Bild led the charge of criticism against Ozil, calling his statement a “whiny resignation” and said he heaped “criticism on everyone but himself.”
Bild, which has for weeks called for Ozil to be dropped from the starting team, also rejected his claims that his Turkish origin and Erdogan photo have been used by some media to pander to the far-right.
“Ozil’s world view here is dangerously close to Erdogan and his despots,” charged the tabloid-style daily.
The photo, which was published on Turkey’s presidential website and the Twitter feed of the ruling party, came just before the June 24 polls Erdogan won to claim sweeping new powers.
Ozil has insisted that “it wasn’t about politics or elections, it was about me respecting the highest office of my family’s country.”
For Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, “all parties in the affair should engage in some soul-searching. I see few here who have really behaved correctly.”
Born and raised in Gelsenkirchen, Ozil has scored 23 goals and made 40 assists in 92 appearances with Die Mannschaft. He is third-generation German-Turk and counts among more than three million people of Turkish origin in Germany.
The DFB has so far stayed mum. In a first reaction from his former teammates, defender Jerome Boateng wrote on Twitter using the Turkish word for “brother“: “It was a pleasure, Abi.”
Former DFB chief Theo Zwanziger warned that the debacle was a “serious blow to the integration efforts in our country that goes beyond football.”
For Tagesspiegel daily, the entire affair was a “watershed for sports, politics and society.”
While noting that Ozil’s thinking that the Erdogan photograph could be non-political was “naive,” it said the fiasco had far reaching consequences.
“Ultimately, Ozil did not fall because of Grindel but because of a heated, populist mood in Germany,” it said.
“The danger exists because many who also have family roots in other countries or culture, can understand Ozil’s mood. And this needs to be countered quickly and decisively.
“Because more is at stake than just the future of the German national football team.”