Belief running high for Saudi Arabia’s Young Falcons

Saudi Arabia in action against Myanmar in the Asian Games. (AFP)
Updated 20 August 2018
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Belief running high for Saudi Arabia’s Young Falcons

  • Where others have picked over-aged players, Saudi Arabia, in contrast, have brought their U-21 team
  • Al-Shehri arrived at the Games playing down the importance of results and focusing on performances

JAKARTA: Saudi Arabia’s football team are doing things differently at the Asian Games this month. The three-week tournament is open to players aged under-23, with countries having the option to select three over-age players. The result is hosts Indonesia have selected a 37-year-old naturalized Brazilian and South Korea, whose players can avoid mandatory military service if they win gold, have called upon Heung-min Son, the Tottenham Hotspur forward.
Saudi Arabia, in contrast, have brought their Under-21 team.

Coach Saad Al-Shehri, who has been in charge of the side for three years, does not shy from the fact his Young Falcons are here primarily to gain experience and develop ahead of a crucial U23 Asian Championships, which offers direct qualification to the Olympic Games.

Yet he is also aware the deeper his side go this month, the more it will ultimately benefit the Kingdom’s Tokyo 2020 objective.
“We are playing here with an Under-21 team in a tournament that is for Under-23s,” he said. “But I believe in these players. I worked with them at the Under-20 World Cup in 2017 in Korea and this team is the future of Saudi Arabia. I do not doubt that, and the Federation is in agreement.
“The players need more experience, more games and strong tournaments, but we all believe in them and our work will continue on this path. This is the squad that we want to qualify for Tokyo.”
Al-Shehri arrived at the Games playing down the importance of results and focusing on performances, but after two games in Jakarta, his team sit joint-top of Group F alongside Iran, with whom they drew 0-0 in their opening game. A comfortable 3-0 victory over Myanmar on Friday means progress to the knock-out stages is all but secure, with today’s match against North Korea offering an opportunity to secure an easier Round of 16 draw.
Finalists in 2014, North Korea were expected to prove the most difficult opponent of the group stage, yet a draw with Myanmar and a 3-0 humbling by Iran have altered expectations for both sides. Al-Shehri, who will be without key playmaker Ayman Al-Khulaif today through suspension, is now expected to make several changes to avoid fatigue in what will be the Young Falcons’ third game in five days.
“I have 20 players and trust them all,” Al-Shehri told Arab News. “I am confident we can play a good game against North Korea because we have players hungry and waiting to take their chance. Everybody is ready to play and be involved. Whether we win or lose… all we want is to play games. We need to play more games to improve and the further in the tournament we go, the more games we play, so if we get to the final it’s very good for us regardless. Every single game we play between now and the Tokyo qualifiers is very important for us.”
Al-Khulaif, 21, has been instrumental in his side’s results so far, proving a constant outlet on the right of midfield and drawing nine fouls, including two penalties. The Al-Ahli playmaker made his Pro League debut last season, coming on as a 90th minute substitute for Taiser Al-Jassem against Ohod, and will hope this tournament can help him catch the eye of new Al-Ahli boss Pablo Guede.
Forced to sit out today’s match, he is looking to the positives. “I am sad to miss the next game, but I trust fully in my teammates to get a good result and it gives me a chance to rest and, inshallah, prepare better for the knock-out stages.”


Centuries from Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan enough for India to crush Pakistan

Updated 9 min 1 sec ago
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Centuries from Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan enough for India to crush Pakistan

DUBAI: Openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan hit punishing centuries to steer an imperious India to a nine wicket win over a listless Pakistan in the Asia Cup match in Dubai on Sunday.
Sharma notched 119-ball 111 not out for his 19th one-day hundred while Dhawan made a 100-ball 114 for his eighth century as the pair put on 210 for the opening stand — second best in all India-Pakistan one-day internationals.
That super effort from the openers saw India overhaul the target with 10.3 overs to spare.
The Super four win is the second for India over arch-rivals following their easy eighth wicket win in the first round.
The win is India’s highest against Pakistan in terms of wickets, improving on the eight wicket win over Pakistan in Melbourne in 1985.
Pakistan were steered to 237-7 by Shoaib Malik who made 90-ball 78 after winning the toss and batting but it proved too little for the strong Indian batting line.
Pakistan could have got Sharma out in the sixth over but Imam-ul-Haq dropped an easy catch off a luckless Shaheen Shah, giving the colorful Indian power to smash seven boundaries and four sixes.
Sharma, who scored back to back fifties in the last two games, also became the ninth Indian batsmen to complete 7,000 one-day runs in his 187th match when he reached 94, soon after he was dropped on 81 by Fakhar Zaman off Shadab Khan.
Dhawan matches his skipper shot for shot, firing 100-ball 114 with 16 boundaries and two sixes as Pakistani bowlers had no clue to the rasping and flowing strokes of the Indian openers.
Pakistan’s pace spearhead Mohammad Amir, brought back in one of two changes after dropped for the Afghanistan match, went wicketless for a fifth match in a row, leaving the much vaunted Pakistan bowling biteless.
Even when Dhawan got out in the 34th over with 38 needed it was through a run out.
The best opening stand in Indo-Pak one-day internationals was 224 Mohammad Hafeez and Nasir Jamshed at Dhaka in 2012.
Earlier, Malik scored a 90-ball 78 with four boundaries and two sixes, but India kept a tight check on Pakistan’s progress.
Pakistan lost Imam (ten), Zaman (31) and Babar Azam (run out for nine) in an unimpressive start to their innings before Malik and skipper Sarfraz Ahmed added 107 for the fourth wicket.
Sarfraz scored a slow 66-ball 44 with only two boundaries before he became one of two Kuldeep Yadav’s wicket who finished with 2-41.
Pakistan’s final over score depended on Malik who crucially fell in the 44th over, caught behind off a leg-side edge off Jasprit Bumrah.
Asif Ali smashed two sixes in his 21-ball 30 before he was bowled by leg-spinner Yuzvndra Chahal who took 2-38 in his nine overs.
Bumran finished with 2-29 in his ten overs.