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.”


Manchester City boss Guardiola gives Tommy Fleetwood a Pep talk ahead of Ryder Cup

Updated 25 September 2018
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Manchester City boss Guardiola gives Tommy Fleetwood a Pep talk ahead of Ryder Cup

  • World No.11 receives special message from Spaniard ahead of Europe's clash against the US
  • Fleetwood to make his Ryder Cup debut in Paris this week.

PARIS: Ryder Cup rookie Tommy Fleetwood will hope a message of motivation from Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola can spur him on to success for Europe in Paris this week.
Fleetwood, introduced to Guardiola through a mutual friend, was on a Cheshire golf course with the City boss in April when his side were crowned Premier League champions following Manchester United’s defeat by West Brom.
The pair then struck up a partnership at Wentworth for the celebrity Pro-Am event ahead of the BMW PGA Championship in May, and Guardiola has shown his support for Fleetwood ahead of this week’s showdown with the US.
“We all have these videos in the room, these motivational videos, and he was one of the guys that sent a message to me,” Fleetwood said.
“I’m not sure he’s coming over. I’m sure he’s busy at the weekend but he might make it over. But yeah, we always talk quite a lot.
“He’s somebody that’s great to know.”
Guardiola gushed about his first-hand Ryder Cup experience as a fan at the 2012 edition in Medinah, when Europe pulled off a remarkable final-day comeback to stun the Americans on their home patch.
The Spaniard, then on a 12-month sabbatical after leaving his post at Barcelona, was invited to the tournament as a guest of European captain Jose Maria Olazabal.
“He was at the Ryder Cup in Medinah, and he’ll always mention that that’s one of the greatest times he’s had in his life being at that Ryder Cup,” said Fleetwood.
“Yeah, it was a very special time. It has a special place in his heart, the Ryder Cup, and he’s been very supportive through the whole thing.
“Maybe we’ll see him, I don’t know.”
City are due to host Brighton in the Premier League on Saturday, not ruling out the possibility of Guardiola making an appearance for Sunday’s singles.