Belief running high for Saudi Arabia’s Young Falcons

Saudi Arabia in action against Myanmar in the Asian Games. (AFP)
Updated 20 August 2018

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.”

Unrivaled: India now 7-0 in World Cup games against Pakistan

Updated 17 June 2019

Unrivaled: India now 7-0 in World Cup games against Pakistan

  • Conditions did not dampen the enthusiasm of a predominantly pro-India crowd 

MANCHESTER, UK: For such an intense rivalry, it is still a lopsided contest when India and Pakistan meet at the Cricket World Cup.

India extended their record to 7-0 against Pakistan at the World Cup with an 89-run victory in a rain-interrupted encounter Sunday that likely will remain the most-watched game of the six-week tournament.

India started ominously with Rohit Sharma scoring 140 from 113 deliveries and skipper Virat Kohli contributing 77 in a total of 336-5, a record for a One-Day International at Old Trafford.

Pakistan were always behind the run-rate required.

Fakhar Zaman (62) and Babar Azam (48) put on 104 for the second wicket but when both were dismissed by left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav within nine balls, Pakistan’s hopes faded with them.

When Hardik Pandya took wickets with consecutive deliveries in the 27th over, Pakistan were 129-5. And with a result in play because both teams had batted more than 20 overs, there was no chance of sharing points if rain prevented any more play. A delay after the 35th with Pakistan at 166-6 just prolonged the inevitable.

Pakistan were  set a revised target of 302 from 40 overs and the last five overs were a non-event with Pakistan finishing 212-6. India remained unbeaten in four games to start the tournament.

The conditions did not dampen the enthusiasm of a predominantly pro-India crowd that filled the 162-year-old venue to its 23,500 capacity. Seats were in excessively high demand, after all, with the International Cricket Council reporting more than 800,000 ticket applications for the game.

There is always extra significance when the nuclear-armed neighboring countries meet at ICC tournaments because India and Pakistan play cricket so infrequently in bilateral series.

This was no different, with a 1 billion-plus TV audience and an almost football-like atmosphere at the ground.

Kohli’s single to get off the mark was met by “Kohli-Kohli-Kohli” chants from the predominantly pro-India crowd.

Sharma set the tone with his second century of the tournament, sharing partnerships of 136 with KL Rahul (57) for the first wicket and 98 with Kohli for the second.

He seemed ready to really unleash when he needlessly paddled a ball from Hasan Ali to Wahab Riaz at short fine leg in the 38th over.

Kohli continued, becoming the third Indian batter to pass 11,000 ODI runs. In doing so in his 222nd innings, he became the fastest to reach the milestone.

Kohli was on 71 and India was 305-4 when rain stopped play for the first time in the 47th over. The India captain was caught behind off Mohammad Amir’s bowling not long after he returned from the 55-minute rain break and, surprisingly, walked off before umpire Marais Erasmus had a chance to signal him out.

There was some speculation Kohli did not edge the ball but it was inconsequential in the end, as India passed Sri Lanka’s 318-7 against England in 2006 to set the highest ODI total in Manchester.

After a batting onslaught at the top, Pakistan pegged back the run-rate slightly as Amir (3-47) dismissed Pandya (26) and then had MS Dhoni (1) and Kohli caught behind — both the ex-captain and captain walking.

Things started going haywire for Pakistan after skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed won the toss and fielded, going against the advice sent via social media by Prime Minister and 1992 World Cup-winning captain Imran Khan.

Overcast and cool overhead conditions that usually would favor swing and seam bowling didn’t greatly assist the Pakistan attack, with India racing to 52-0 in its most productive opening power play of the tournament.

The Pakistan pacemen had trouble with the umpires, with Amir and Wahab each cautioned twice for running on the protected area in the middle of the pitch. One further warning would have resulted in a suspension.

It also didn’t help that opener Imam-ul-Haq got out in rare circumstances to Vijay Shankar’s very first delivery at a World Cup — it coming on the fifth ball of Pakistan’s fifth over after Shankar was asked to finish it off for injured teammate Bhuveshwar Kumar.

Pakistan’s next game is at Lord’s against South Africa, which also has three points and only remote prospects of reaching the semifinals.