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
0

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.


Late Virgil van Dijk strike over rivals Germany fires Netherlands into Nations League semifinals

Updated 20 November 2018
0

Late Virgil van Dijk strike over rivals Germany fires Netherlands into Nations League semifinals

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany: Virgil van Dijk equalized in the 91st-minute to send the Netherlands into the Nations League semifinals, at the expense of France, after sealing a dramatic 2-2 draw away to Germany on Monday.
The Dutch advance at the expense of world champions France after scoring twice in the final six minutes in Gelsenkirchen as Germany were punished for but not being clinical enough in the second half.
Liverpool defender Van Dijk fired home to complete the Dutch fight back after Quincy Promes scored their first goal on 85 minutes to cancel out Timo Werner and Leroy Sane’s first-half goals for Germany.
The point in Gelsenkirchen was enough to send the Dutch into the Nations League semis as Group One winners, with world champions France second, while bottom side Germany were already relegated to the ‘B’ league.
Ronaldo Koeman’s side showed plenty of heart against the Germans, who had been 2-0 up after just 20 minutes.
Thomas Mueller, a second-half replacement, reached the milestone of 100 Germany appearances, but Van Dijk dampened any celebrations for the hosts.
Having described 2018 as a ‘slap in the face’ — after a record six defeats in a calender year — Germany showed the ‘killer instinct’ head coach Joachim Loew had called for after their World Cup debacle — but only in the first half.
The trio of Serge Gnabry, Sane and Werner, so effective in Thursday’s 3-0 friendly win over Russia, caused the Dutch defense no end of problems in the opening 45 minutes.
Having started the rebuilding process in the wake of Germany’s woeful World Cup display, crashing out after the group stages, Loew started with only three Brazil 2014 winners in Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels and Toni Kroos.
Dutch coach Ronald Koeman made two changes from Friday’s 2-0 win over France with Kenny Tete taking over from Denzel Dumfries at right back and Promes on the right wing for Steven Bergwijn.
Germany needed just nine minutes to land the first blow in the clash of the European heavyweights.
There was little on when Gnabry’s pass found Werner on the edge of the area, but the 22-year-old showed ice-cold finishing by hitting the bottom corner of the net past Jasper Cillessen.
Werner ended his barren run of eight internationals without a goal and Sane added the second, with the help of a deflection, 11 minutes later to floor the Dutch.
Again, there was little on when Toni Kroos floated in a long pass to Sane, who stumbled slightly, but managed to win the ball and fired home a superb shot, which clipped the boot of a defender, as it sailed past Cillessen.
A hamstring injury to Ryan Babbel forced Koeman to reshuffle his attack with Javairo Dilrosun coming on just before the half-time whistle.
Werner fired wide after getting in behind the defense, but from that point on the Dutch began to take charge.
Werner made way for Germany’s chief playmaker Marco Reus with 27 minutes left as Loew also introduced the experienced Mueller, but it was not enough to defend the lead.
The Dutch scored from their first real attack when Promes curled his shot home on 85 minutes after sustained pressure from the hosts.
The scene was set for Van Dijk to complete the fairytale comeback when he produced a thumping finish to delight traveling fans just before the final whistle.