Juan Antonio Pizzi hoping World Cup ‘feel-good’ factor can inspire Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia in training ahead of their friendly with Bolivia. (Twitter: Saudi National Team)
Updated 08 September 2018
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Juan Antonio Pizzi hoping World Cup ‘feel-good’ factor can inspire Saudi Arabia

  • Juan Antonio Pizzi want his team to carry on where they left off at this summer’s World Cup
  • Pizzi took the reins in November and, after the win over Egypt, was handed an extension until after the Asian Cup

Juan Antonio Pizzi wants Saudi Arabia to carry on where they left off at this summer’s World Cup in Russia when they face Bolivia in a friendly in Riyadh on Monday in preparation for the Asian Cup.

In Russia, the Green Falcons recovered from a 5-0 opening game thrashing against the hosts  to narrowly lose 1-0 to Uruguay before ending the tournament with a last-minute victory over Egypt, a first win on the global stage since 1994.

“I couldn’t sleep that night after the Russia game and it was a difficult day for all of us,” Pizzi told Saudi television. “I was sad and it was a disaster. The difference between the two teams was not massive on the day, it is just that we made individual mistakes.”

Under the Argentine, the Green Falcons bounced back in the following two games. 

“We showed a much better game against Uruguay and the win over Egypt was a joy and that is what we are aiming for as we move to the 2019 Asian Cup, starting now,” he added. “At the World Cup, we showed what we are capable of. We showed character and that we can play football. We have to remember that as we move forward.”

Pizzi took over the reins in November and, after the win over Egypt, was handed an extension until after the Asian Cup in January as Saudi Arabia aim to win the continental competition for the first time since 1996. At the 2019 Asian Cup, to be held in the UAE, the Green Falcons will take on Qatar, Lebanon and North Korea. 

Monday’s game against Bolivia marks Pizzi’s 13th game in charge and a chance for win number five.

There were few surprises in the squad named by Pizzi, but veteran striker Mohammad Al-Sahlawi and goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf, who both went to the Russia, did not make the squad selected to take on the South Americans.

“The door is still open for all players,” he insisted. “Those who perform well and show what they can do will always have a chance of being called up. It is all about putting together the right team and squad for the Asian Cup.”

There were two withdrawals from the squad — Al-Ahli center-back Motaz Hawsawi has been struggling for fitness and has been replaced by Al-Shabab’s Abdulaziz Haroon, who could make his debut. Al-Shabab teammate Hattan Bahebri has been allowed to leave the training camp on compassionate grounds after an uncle of the 26-year-old midfielder passed away.

Abdulrahman Al-Aboud may also get a chance to start. The Ettifaq midfielder has been called up for the first time and is looking forward to staking his claim for a place ahead of the Asian Cup. 

“I am delighted to be in the training camp and am enjoying it, the coach is very technical and I am always learning. It is great to be here,” Al-Aboud said.

The 23 year-old is looking forward to taking on Bolivia. “They are a good team and will give us the kind of test we need as we prepare for the Asian Cup.” 

Bolivia, preparing for the start of qualification for the 2022 World Cup, have brought a strong team to Riyadh that includes Gilbert Alvarez, the striker who joined Saudi side Al-Hazm in August. Coach Cesar Farias is looking forward to the challenge. 

“We saw Saudi Arabia at the World Cup. After the first game, they played well, they were well-organized, defended well and worked hard,” Farias said. 

Farias, familiar with his opposite number, added: “Pizzi knows how to build a team and took Chile to the Copa America title in 2016. I am sure that Saudi Arabia will be successful with him in charge.”

On Friday, it was confirmed that Saudi Arabia’s next international game will be against Brazil on Oct. 12 at Riyadh’s King Saud University Stadium.


Real Madrid can still win title, claims Santiago Solari

Updated 17 February 2019
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Real Madrid can still win title, claims Santiago Solari

  • Defeat leaves Real in third, nine points behind arch-rivals Barcelona.
  • Girona had not won in the league since November.

LONDON: Santiago Solari insisted Real Madrid could still win the La Liga title despite a shock 2-1 defeat at home to Girona.
The capital club were coming off a five-match winning streak, but were not able to get past their relegation-threatened rivals at the Bernabeu, conceding twice in the second half after taking a 1-0 half-time lead.
Girona had not won in 13 matches in all competitions and were coming off six straight losses. The Catalan club had not won in the league since November and had entered the weekend one point from the relegation zone. So to say this was a shock would be understating the case, Real were on the up, and this was supposed to be an easy win to aid their slim title hopes and add to the momentum of their good 2019 form.
But Solari — clearly a “glass half full” man — claimed Real’s title charge was far from over. Asked if the title was lost, the Argentine, who took over the asked Julen Lopetegui in October, said: “Not at all, not at all, next week there is another match, our rivals, too. All the matches are difficult, as Girona have shown today, we have to keep winning to try to cut the gap.
“This is football and there is always a rival, in this case Girona, who played well.
“In the second half there was a lot of energy. Girona were forceful when they attacked and we lacked clarity. The fatigue is not only physical, it is mental, concentration. We come from a major bustle, many games with good results, and that may have happened to us at the energy level in the second half. It’s likely.”
The surprise defeat dropped Madrid to third place and left them nine points behind Barcelona, who edged Valladolid 1-0 on Saturday with a penalty kick converted by Lionel Messi. The result at the Nou Camp ended a three-game winless run for the Girona neighbors in all competitions.
Madrid had won seven of their last eight matches in all competitions, with the only setback a 1-1 draw at Barca in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals. They had cut Barcelona’s lead from 10 points to six in recent rounds after seeing their arch-rivals go through a slump.
Solari made some changes to the starting lineup, leaving Vinicius Junior and Gareth Bale on the bench after they started midweek in the 2-1 win at Ajax in the Champions League second round clash.
Casemiro opened the scoring with a firm header from near the penalty spot in the 25th minute after a cross by Toni Kroos, and Girona equalized with a penalty kick converted by Cristhian Stuani in the 65th after a handball by Sergio Ramos inside the area.
Girona had a golden chance to equalize about five minutes before the penalty, when Aleix Garcia’s close-range shot went over the crossbar. The visitors moved in front with a 75th-minute header by Portu after Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois initially saved a shot by Anthony Lozano.
Portu had hit the post a few minutes earlier with a booming shot from inside the area.
Solari put on Vinicius Junior and Bale in the second half, but they were unable to save Real. Courtois made it to the area in a last-gasp attempt, but could not get enough on his header, sending the ball just wide of the post.
As if to emphasize the dire day, Ramos was sent off in 90th minute after receiving a second yellow card.