Saudi Arabia’s Young Falcons through to Asian Games knockout stages despite 3-0 defeat to North Korea

Mohammad Maizn Albassas of Saudi Arabia (C) fights for the ball with Hang Yong Thae of North Korea (R) (AFP)
Updated 20 August 2018
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Saudi Arabia’s Young Falcons through to Asian Games knockout stages despite 3-0 defeat to North Korea

  • Young Falcons have wings clipped but still fly into second round after heavy defeat.
  • Saudi Arabia qualify as one of the best third-placed teams.

JAKARTA: From flying high to almost flying home, Saudi Arabia’s Young Falcons came within a goal of going from group leaders to bottom of the table after losing 3-0 to North Korea in their final Group F match at the Asian Games. They ultimately squeaked to the knockout stages as one of the best third-placed teams and will now meet China on Friday.

Arriving full of confidence and with one foot already in the second round, coach Saad Al-Shehri rested seven of the 11 players who started his side’s win against Myanmar on Friday. That meant a much-changed back five, with Al-Ittihad’s Amin Al-Bukhari in goal and Al-Ahli duo Mohammed Al-Zubaidi and Mohammed Al-Bassas, both making their Asian Games debuts alongside ever-presents Abdullah Tarmin and Awn Al-Saluli.

“We came here with the objective of preparing our players for the U23 Asian Championships,” said Al-Shehri. “For that reason, we gave a chance to some of the players who had not been involved yet and I think they are better than they showed here.”

Al-Shehri’s tinkering backfired as, inside two minutes and with their first effort on goal, North Korea were ahead. A corner from Kwang-myong Jo was met by the head of Yong-il Kim who directed it past Al-Bukhari with ease as his defenders looked on in confusion; the marking as tight as a wizard’s sleeve.

Saudi Arabia had arrived at the Wibawa Mukti Stadium top of Group F and all-but securely through to the Round of 16, yet the goal changed everything. Suddenly, a three-goal Myanmar win against Iran threatened to put the Young Falcons’ place in the knock-out stages in serious jeopardy. 

“We arrived without thinking too much about the qualifying, be it finishing first, second or third,” Al-Shehri added. 

“We tried to give game time to other players and of course sometimes the decisions you make impact the likely outcomes. Either way though, as a team, you want to play strong teams, so for that we will keep our focus and continue our development.”

The Saudi Arabia players seemed to understand the consequences of conceding that early goal. Nerves took hold with Al-Bukhari, the debutant goalkeeper, allowing a pass to run under his foot, scrambling back desperately to avoid further embarrassment, while loose balls were being hoofed clear in panic. Al-Shehri crouched on the sideline, as motionless as his midfield.

North Korea, well-beaten by the Iranians three days earlier, looked more dynamic and determined throughout, pressing intensely and holding back nothing in their tackles. Saudi, in contrast, were meek. In the 25th minute, they fell further behind. Woeful defending allowed Korea a free shot at goal from close range and Al-Bukhari’s parried save was turned into the net by striker Yu-song Kim.

“Korea are good team, well organised and strong, but we are better than we showed here,” said Al-Shehri. 

“Now we must look at the performance, face forward towards the future, and focus on improving.”

Al-Shehri refrained from making changes at half-time, yet his side did not improve. Just six minutes after the restart, and again from a corner, Korea notched their third. At 1.94m, Ittihad’s Awn Al-Saluli was the tallest outfield player by some distance, yet he was slow to react when Yu-song Kim squeezed in front of him to header home his second goal of the afternoon.

The rushed introduction of Nawaf Al-Habasi and Haroune Camara gave Saudi more of a physical presence and Abdulrahman Ghareeb saw his shot tipped around the post, but it was Korea who came closest to the game’s fourth. Al-Zubaidi was dispossessed while playing out from the back and raced back to make a last-ditch tackle, winning the ball cleanly. Tajikstani referee Nasrullo Kabirov, however, deemed it a foul and produced a red card only to change his mind after speaking with his fourth official.

“He will be criticised, but I thought it was good from the referee to acknowledge he had made a mistake and change his decision,” Al-Shehri added. “For sure, it was not a red card and he accepted that. Other officials may not have done that, so he deserves some credit.”

With news filtering through that Myanmar were beating Iran 2-0 and chasing a third, Saudi pushed forward seeking a vital goal. It was not to arrive, but neither was a goal for Myanmar, ultimately allowing the Young Falcons, wings clipped, to stumble through to the knock-out stages. 

China, winners of group C and with three wins from three, await.


England’s Oliver Fisher cards first 59 in European Tour history

Updated 2 min 24 sec ago
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England’s Oliver Fisher cards first 59 in European Tour history

  • The 30-year-old tapped in for par on the final hole to complete an astonishing 12-under-par round featuring 10 birdies and an eagle
  • Fisher, who was regarded as a possible future star as a teenage amateur, is ranked down at 287 in the world and had missed 11 cuts in his 22 previous events

VILAMOURA: Unheralded Englishman Oliver Fisher fired the first round of 59 in the European Tour’s 46-year history on a remarkable second day of the Portugal Masters on Friday.
The 30-year-old tapped in for par on the final hole to complete an astonishing 12-under-par round featuring 10 birdies and an eagle, after his long birdie putt for a 58 grazed the edge of the hole.
“It feels great, I started great and I kept it going,” Fisher said. “Just pleased I two-putted from 40 feet on the final green.”
Fisher, who was regarded as a possible future star as a teenage amateur, is ranked down at 287 in the world and had missed 11 cuts in his 22 previous events this season.
He also had to battle to save his tour card at the same tournament two years ago, but scaled heights that thousands of players had failed to reach before with his efforts on Friday.
“Two years ago I was on the same green just trying to keep my card, so I was keeping that in the back of my mind and trying to remember that it could be worse,” he added.
Fisher’s round gave him the clubhouse lead on 12-under for the tournament, with the majority of players still on the course.
Two other men had come close to the magical number at the Portugal Masters, with Scott Jamieson and Nicolas Colsaerts both missing putts to break 60 in 2013 and 2014 respectively.