Solid start in Asian Games for ‘work in progress’ Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia's Haroune Moussa Camara fights for the ball with Iran's Alireza Arta in the Asian Games group game between the two nations. (AFP)
Updated 15 August 2018
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Solid start in Asian Games for ‘work in progress’ Saudi Arabia

  • Saudi Arabian coach Saad Al-Shehri promised his U23 side will improve after goalless draw
  • Young Falcons are back in action on Friday, against Myanmar

JAKARTA: Saudi Arabian coach Saad Al-Shehri promised his U23 side will find their scoring boots after twice striking the woodwork on Wednesday night during a scoreless draw with Iran in the opening match of their Asian Games campaign in Indonesia.
At the Wibawa Mukti Stadium, the Young Falcons demonstrated impressive technique, particularly the midfield pairing of Al-Shabab’s Nasser Al-Omran and Al-Ahli’s Yousef Al-Harbi, but ultimately failed to take their chances against an Iran side happy to defend deep and play on the counter-attack.
“We played well, but not very well,” said coach Al-Shehri. “With the players we have, a better result was possible. The first match of any tournament is difficult and we played against a team who have a strong defense and implement fast transitions. We made three or four chances to score, so cannot be too disappointed. This is just the start though and we have at least two more matches. Now we must improve — and we will.”
As early as the sixth minute, Al-Qadisiyah striker Haroune Camara showed glimpses of why national team coach Juan Antonio Pizzi had been tempted to take him to the World Cup this summer.
The strapping 20-year-old outmuscled two Iranian defenders before rounding the goalkeeper, but his shot at goal was bundled on to the post by a back-tracking defender. A minute later, Al-Ahli playmaker Ayman Al-Khulaif could have opened the scoring, but saw his tame shot cleared off the line.
“We tried our best, but we did not have luck to win,” said Abdulrahman Ghareeb, the diminutive Al-Ahli midfielder. “I promise in the next two games we will be better and get the results required to progress. We played well and remain confident.”
For all Saudi’s dominance, it was Iran who could have gone in with a goal advantage at the break when a defensive mix-up allowed Mohammedreza Azadi Andizeh to toe-poke past Mohammed Ayami in the Saudi goal. This time it was left to Abdullah Tarmin to clear off the line at the other end. And while Alyami was called into action again early in the second period, with the temperature recorded at 34 degrees Celsius, the intensity unsurprisingly waned as the game went on.
“Always, when the weather is hot like this, it makes problems and we saw that in the second half,” said Al-Shehri.
“We talked to the players at half-time about how to maintain the physical level until the end because if you play against a team like Iran that plays counter attack, you need to be wary of leaving big spaces in behind.”
Al-Shehri’s words seemed to work. In added time, and with a flurry of late substitutes sucking all rhythm out of the contest, a final energetic Saudi attack resulted in Nawaf Al-Habashi latching on to a smart cut-back from the byline and firing toward goal. Once again, however, there was a roadblock in the way as the ball cannoned back off the far post.
“We need to improve the team’s personality and build a good squad for the next tournament, the U23 Asian Cup,” said Al-Shehri. “That is what we are trying to do here. Win games, but also build a team that can qualify for Tokyo 2020.”
There is no time to waste in their quest — the Young Falcons are back in action on Friday, against Myanmar.


Blue Point focused on Al-Quoz glory after magical run at Meydan

Updated 15 February 2019
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Blue Point focused on Al-Quoz glory after magical run at Meydan

  • Star sprinter proves class with easy G2 win in Dubai.
  • Charlie Appleby hopeful over Al-Quoz Sprint chances.

LONDON: Star sprinter Blue Point is on course for glory in the much-anticipated Al-Quoz Sprint on Dubai World Cup night. That is the message from Godolphin after a brilliant victory in the G2 Meydan Sprint on Thursday.
The Dubai-based stable have long held high hopes for the Shamardal horse and the five-year-old’s win confirmed that they have something special on their hands.
Blue Point took up the running from Faatinah with more than two furlongs to race and readily opened up daylight over his rivals approaching the final furlong, quickly going clear.
For Charlie Appleby the performance only went to prove that Blue Point has it in him to steal the show on Dubai World Cup night in March.
“If he brought his class, he was going to be good enough to win, but we had left a bit on him because the G1 Al-Quoz Sprint on Dubai World Cup night is our target,” the Godolphin trainer said.
“No disrespect to this race, and we were pleased to win it, but it was the right stepping stone onto the Al-Quoz.
“I was pleased to see him in the paddock, more so than a couple of days ago when it looked like he had a couple of pounds left on him. He had tightened up a bit.
“We were always confident that he was going to come forward for whatever he did. He is a five-year-old now and a professional — getting better with racing. He came alive two furlongs down and it was only a matter of William asking him to pick up and do a bit of work.”
The “Boys in Blue” always place a lot of focus on the World Cup night and a second win in the Al-Quoz sprint — Appleby saddled Jungle Cat to victory last year — is one of the aims for the famous race meeting in March.
“I am very pleased and, all being well, he should step forward for it and all roads will now lead to the Al-Quoz Sprint,” Appleby said.
“I feel that he is not overly exposed as a sprinter — we looked after him as a two-year-old and a three-year-old, while he wasn’t over-raced last year so he is entitled still to be learning.”
Added to the optimism surrounding Blue Point is the fact that William Buick feels he is coming to form at just the right time.
“It was a nice comeback opportunity for Blue Point and he did it very comfortably, doing everything right. It was lovely to see him come back like that,” the jockey said. “He has probably matured a little bit compared to 12 months ago and the biggest difference this year is that he is a G1 winner this time. He had proved himself and feels like a very confident horse — there is no question that he is a top sprinter.”
Meanwhile, Godolphin’s star G1 performers Hartnell, Best Of Days and Alizee have been entered for the world’s richest mile race, the $5 million All-Star Mile to be run at Flemington on March 16.
Head trainer James Cummings confirmed that all three horses will seek a place in the famous race.
“We think it’s great the way in which it really engages with not only the racing audience, but potentially reaching out beyond just that and bringing in a wider audience from not only Australia, but from around the world,” Cummings said. “We’re really excited to be a part of the richest mile race anywhere in the world.”