Lebanon coach tips Saudi Arabia as Asian Cup favorites

Lebanon coach Miodrag Radulovic believes Saudi Arabia are among the favorites to win the 2019 Asian Cup. (AFP)
Updated 28 August 2018
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Lebanon coach tips Saudi Arabia as Asian Cup favorites

  • Lebanon coach Miodrag Radulovic believes Saudi Arabia are among the favorites to win the 2019 Asian Cup
  • Saudi Arabia join Lebanon, Qatar and North Korea in Group E

LONDON: Lebanon coach Miodrag Radulovic believes Saudi Arabia are among the favorites to win the 2019 Asian Cup but insists his side will not roll over for the Green Falcons next January.
Saudi Arabia join Lebanon, Qatar and North Korea in Group E, with Juan Antonio Pizzi’s men widely tipped to progress to the last-16 as group winners.
The Green Falcons lifted the trophy last time it was hosted on UAE soil in 1996, but have failed to add a fourth title since — finishing as runners-up in both 2000 and 2007.
However Radulovic, who has been doing his homework on Saudi Arabia, watching all three of their matches at this summer’s World Cup, is convinced they can go all the way this time.
“I went to see Saudi Arabia in Russia and although the first game did not go well, they improved with every match,” Radulovic told Arab News.
“The first game was very surprising to me because those who saw Saudi Arabia in qualifying would have been expecting a much better performance.
“But against Uruguay and then particularly against Egypt, they showed what a good team they are. They work very hard and there are a lot of talented players.
“Saudi Arabia will be a very dangerous opponent and for sure will be one of the favorites to win the Asian Cup.”
Lebanon begin their Asian Cup campaign against Qatar at Al-Ain’s Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Jan. 9, with Saudi Arabia opening against North Korea at the Maktoum bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Stadium in Dubai a day earlier.
Radulovic’s side face off against Pizzi’s in the second game on Jan. 12 and despite being impressed with what he has seen of the Green Falcons, the Montenegrin feels Lebanon have what it takes to ruffle some feathers in Group E.
“Yes, Saudi Arabia are probably the favorites to win the group right now, but it is still more than four months until the start of the tournament,” Radulovic said.
“Nobody knows in January what will happen.
“It is a difficult group, of course. Qatar also have very big ambitions as they are hosting the next World Cup, and North Korea have a good history having played in the 2010 World Cup.
“We know it is a big challenge to face these teams but our preparation is still ongoing and I think we will only get better. I am very hopeful of our chances at the Asian Cup.”
Lebanon sit in 79th place in the latest FIFA World Rankings, making them the ninth best team in Asia on paper. But they are still seen by many as major outsiders, having never previously qualified for the Asian Cup.
As hosts of the 2000 edition of the competition, the Cedars came bottom of a group containing Iran, Iraq and Thailand. In 2019, though, Radulovic is optimistic that Lebanon can make a bigger impact.
“It is great to be in this competition and we are proud to have qualified but at the Asian Cup the teams are equal,” the Montenegrin said.
“We will try to show everybody that our hard work has been worth it. We will not be there as tourists and we will fight for every goal and every point.
“I think we will represent Lebanese football very well.”


Naomi Osaka shocked as Kristina Mladenovic downs world No. 1 in Dubai

Updated 19 February 2019
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Naomi Osaka shocked as Kristina Mladenovic downs world No. 1 in Dubai

  • It was Osaka's first match since she won the Australian Open — her second consecutive Grand Slam title.
  • World No. 67 Mladenovic lost for words after surprise win.

DUBAI: Naomi Osaka stumbled badly in her first match since winning the Australian Open as the world number one went down in a flurry of errors to exit the Dubai Championships on Tuesday.
Dubai-based Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic claimed a 6-3, 6-3 victory to reach the third round as Osaka made 25 unforced errors.
The rout, which featured seven breaks of the Osaka serve, took barely an hour, sending Mladenovic into a Wednesday contest with Carla Suarez Navarro.
“This is my home tournament, I live here,” world No. 67 Mladenovic said. “It’s great to get a win like this in front of a big crowd.
“Beating the number one is always special.”
The second set was riddled with seven consecutive breaks of serve before Mladenovic finished off the job with a winner to the empty court on match point.
Osaka stunned the tennis world last week by announcing her split from coach Sascha Bajin despite winning back-to-back Grand Slam titles at the US and Australian Opens.
She said earlier this week that she would not prioritize “success over happiness” when asked about the sacking, and she never looked like winning in Dubai as she also served five double faults.
Earlier on Tuesday, Simona Halep and Petra Kvitova both won their opening matches, while Elina Svitolina made a strong start to her bid for a third straight title.
Kvitova, the 2013 winner, recovered from losing a first-set tiebreak to defeat Katerina Siniakova 6-7 (3/7), 6-4, 6-4 and squeeze into the third round.
Halep, Dubai champion in 2015, saw off 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard 7-6 (7/4), 6-4.
The Romanian said she is still feeling the effects of her weekend final defeat in Doha by Elize Mertens.
“It was a good match because I won it. I tried to finish the points faster because I’m a little bit tired,” Halep said.
“She played well, the level was pretty good. At some points I really ran very well. I’m confident. I feel good on court even if I’m tired.”
A third former world number one also advanced as Angelique Kerber beat Dalila Jakupovic 7-6 (7/4), 6-3.
Kvitova, Wimbledon champion in 2011 and 2014, said she was unfazed about the early midday start to her match.
“I don’t really care if I play the first match,” the Australian Open runner-up said. “Now I’m done, so I have a free afternoon.
“I’m not sure what I’m pleased with... maybe with my comeback at the end.”