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

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.

Francesco Molinari looking for ‘dream’ end to season in Dubai at DP World Tour Championship

Updated 15 November 2018

Francesco Molinari looking for ‘dream’ end to season in Dubai at DP World Tour Championship

  • 2018 has been an incredible year for Molinari
  • If Molinari wins this weekend, it would make him just the third player in history to win multiple Rolex Series events

LONDON: Francesco Molinari is looking to end a fairytale season by becoming the European No. 1 at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, which starts today, and the first Italian to achieve the feat.
2018 has been an incredible year for Molinari, with a maiden Major victory in the Open Championship in July, which followed a first Rolex event victory at the BMW PGA Championship in May. He has also not missed a single cut this season, a run that extends over four years in regular European Tour events.
And in a glorious Ryder Cup for the Europeans, he became the first player from the continent to win five points out of five, while securing the winning point in his singles match against USA’s Phil Mickelson.
Speaking to journalists ahead of today’s tee-off, the Italian said: “It feels incredible, a new position for me, I’ve never been here in the past.
“I think it’s just a consequence and a sign of an incredible season. I would have never guessed that I would be here in this position if you told me in April or May this year but it’s been an incredible summer, topped by an unbelievable Ryder Cup.
“Really, it’s a dream season for me and it’s nice to be here in this position. Hopefully I’ll be able to close it out. I know it’s not going to be easy and I’m not making any assumptions but I’ll do my best on the course to do the job.
And when asked about his prospects of winning the Harry Vardon trophy this weekend, he said: “You can have the best week of your life and win one tournament but to win a competition that lasts throughout the season, with the amount of talent there is right now on the European Tour, is something really hard to do but it’s also still hard to figure out for me how I’m here in this position.”
Molinari needs to finish tied-fifth or better at the Jumeirah Golf Estates to seal the Race to Dubai crown, but Ryder Cup partner Tommy Fleetwood — the man he formed such a strong bond with in Paris — is the only man who can prevent him the perfect ending.
Victory for the Englishman on the Earth Course is the only way he can deny Molinari the title, but the Italian was full of praise for his “best friend” and would not begrudge Fleetwood if he successfully defended his Race to Dubai crown.
“I know we said this and we’re going to sound really cheesy but if I don’t win, I’d rather see him win than anyone else,” he said.
“We really are good friends and he’s had an amazing season. To think that he won last year and to come here, still with a chance to win two in a row, it’s incredible, really.
“So fair play to him. What I can say for me is that it’s been a great season and however it goes this week, I’m still going to have lots of great memories from all of what I’ve done this year, and probably the best memory is what we’ve done together with him in France.
“I can’t really be mad at him, even if he wins.”
If Molinari wins this weekend, it would make him just the third player in history to win multiple Rolex Series events and he praised the introduction of the European Tour’s prestige level of tournaments.
“There’s a few events that we target every year,” he said. “It’s great for us to have the opportunity to play in such special tournaments.
“Especially for guys like me, playing a home event in Italy that is part of the Rolex Series, just gives a completely new meaning to the Italian Open.”