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.


Joe Root ton puts England on top against Sri Lanka

Updated 17 November 2018
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Joe Root ton puts England on top against Sri Lanka

KANDY: Captain Joe Root smashed 124 and newcomer Ben Foakes again hit valuable tail end runs to put England in command of the second Test against Sri Lanka on Friday.
England reached 324 for nine — a second innings lead of 278 — when bad light stopped play for the day in Kandy.
Foakes was batting on 51 alongside James Anderson on four.
Spinner Akila Danajanya, whose action is under investigation by the International Cricket Council, claimed six wickets on the turning pitch.
He trapped Root lbw and then bowled Sam Curran for nought with his next ball. Adil Rashid thwarted the hat-trick but soon fell to Dananjaya’s guile for two.
It was his third five wicket haul in just his fifth Test for Dananjaya, who must rush off to Australia after the game for an ICC examination of his bowling.
He however could not stop Root and Foakes swinging the game.
Root reached his 15th Test ton soon after tea, making the sweep and reverse sweep valuable weapons, as he hit 10 fours and two sixes in his 146-ball knock.
Root said he enjoyed making the runs despite the pressure.
“That’s what it should be. You shouldn’t feel pressure like the pressure is too much for you, you should enjoy the occasion and make the most of the opportunity in front of you,” he said after the day’s play.
“The whole group managed to harness that today and make the most of it.”
Root raised his bat to a standing ovation from traveling English fans who also lauded Foakes.
Root made an 82-run seventh wicket stand with Foakes, who reached his fifty with a six off Dilruwan Perera. The hit turned out to be the last ball of the day with dark clouds gathering and thunder heard in the distance.
As he did in his sparkling century on Test debut in the opening game of the series, Foakes mixed caution and aggression to push up the England score.
Every one of England’s top seven batsmen were out attempting a sweep of some description.
Jos Buttler dragged one of Dananjaya’s deliveries onto his stumps while trying to reverse sweep on 34. Moeen Ali was trapped lbw for 10 after failing to connect with an attempted sweep.
“From my point of view, it was almost a safer shot than playing the forward defensive,” said Root.
“With the amount the ball was turning there’s a lot of risk involved in that. At times attack is the best form of defense on a wicket like that.”
Earlier, left-hander Rory Burns registered his maiden Test half-century in just his second match. He was trapped lbw off Malinda Pushpakumara for 59.
Burns then put together 73 runs for the second wicket with Keaton Jennings, who made 26, to steady the innings and help England overcome their 46-run deficit.
“I think the temptation with a deficit like that going into the second innings is to play within your shell and be a bit insular but the guys went out and set the tone at top of the order,” said Root.
“It was really pleasing to see inexperienced guys as Test cricketers really set the benchmark for the rest of the group, a really good platform for us.
“Hopefully we still stretch the lead further and that should be a good chase on this surface.”