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
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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.”


Susie Wolff back Saudi Arabia's Formula E debut to inspire women throughout the Kingdom

Updated 14 December 2018
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Susie Wolff back Saudi Arabia's Formula E debut to inspire women throughout the Kingdom

  • History-maker backs Ad-Diriyah weekend to inspire more women to get behind the wheel in Saudi Arabia.
  • F1 legend Massa set to make his Formula E debut for Wolff's Venturi team.

LONDON: Susie Wolff knows all about making history in a male-dominated world.
The intrepid Scot became the first female driver in 22 years to take part in a Formula 1 Grand Prix meeting when she drove in a practice session ahead of the 2014 British GP.
As a test and development driver at the Williams F1 team, Wolff repeated the feat at that year’s race in Germany — and in the following season in Spain and Silverstone.
Now, Wolff is treading new ground again after becoming the first female team principal in Formula E, the all-electric car series.
It is apt, then, that Wolff’s debut as boss of the Monaco-based Venturi team will be at this weekend’s history-making inaugural Saudi Arabian E-Prix.
The race, which takes place in the Ad-Diriyah district of the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and which also features the debut of the Gen2 car, comes just six months after the lifting of the ban on Saudi women driving.
Wolff said this was a hugely “progressive and positive move,” which will boost “equal opportunities for future generations of girls and women” in the Kingdom.
Now the wife of the boss of the all-conquering Mercedes Formula One team, Toto, Wolff hopes this month’s race will encourage a new generation of female drivers to get behind the wheel.
“Can Saudi Arabia produce a top woman racing driver? The first thing to know is that these things don’t happen overnight,” the 36-year-old, who retired as a racing driver in 2015, told Arab News.
“I think it’s already a big step forward that women in Saudi are allowed to drive.
“Women are driving and can be inspired and become very passionate to take it to the next level and go on to a race track. It always takes only one (person). Sometimes in life you just need to believe it.
“I believe that there are a few Saudi women who are already racing in drifting, so I think that over time, with the right support and the right level of inspiration, that it could be something that could happen in the future.”
In 2016, Wolff — whose racing career encompassed several disciplines such as the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaf (DTM), the German Touring Car series — launched an initiative called Dare to Be Different aimed at inspiring more women into motorsport.
Wolff regrets that she was not able “with the timing to put on a Dare to Be Different event” in Riyadh, but hopes to launch it at next year’s race.
She is, however, thrilled that at least seven female racing drivers will take part in a Formula E test the day after the Saudi race.
Those confirmed for the test include the UAE’s Amna Al-Qubaisi, who started karting at 13 and has competed internationally in Formula Four. Her father Khaled was the first Emirati to compete in the Le Mans 24 Hours race.
Wolff’s choice for Venturi, meanwhile, is Switzerland’s Simona de Silvestro, who competed in two Formula E races in 2015 and was a test driver with the Sauber F1 team the year before.
“Saudi Arabia has been very supportive of trying to get Saudi women out on the race track,” she said. “I think it’s going to be fantastic to see women getting the chance to drive in Formula E.
“I was in Riyadh in September, my first time (there). I was very heavily briefed as a woman going, but I was very positively welcomed and was very positively surprised by the enthusiasm to have the race there; the track looks fantastic.
“As the season-opener, it’s going to be very exciting for Formula E to go to a new destination.”
Venturi finished a disappointing seventh in last season’s championship, but have been buoyed by the addition of the former F1 star Felipe Massa.
Wolff is delighted to have someone of the caliber and experience of the Brazilian, who won 11 Grands Prix in a 15-year F1 career, on board.
She said Massa and his teammate Edoardo Mortara can secure “regular top-eight finishes” as she targets slow but steady progress.
“I made it clear from the beginning that this is a three-year-plan,” Wolff explained.
“This year it’s about consistency and being consistently in the points.
“It’s difficult to aim too high in terms of race wins and regular podiums because obviously the level of Formula E is getting tougher and tougher as there are more and more manufacturers.”