Juan Antonio Pizzi on the defensive after Saudi Arabia draw with Bolivia

Updated 11 September 2018
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Juan Antonio Pizzi on the defensive after Saudi Arabia draw with Bolivia

  • Green Falcons let two-goal lead slip against South Americans.
  • Questions once again asked of Saudi Arabia defence with the Asian Cup just months away.

Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi admitted that his team has defensive issues after the Green Falcons threw away a 2-0 lead against Bolivia to draw 2-2 in Monday’s friendly in Riyadh.

 

There were promising signs for fans of the Green Falcons in the side’s first match since this summer’s World Cup as Yehya Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari put the hosts ahead and in control inside the first 10 minutes but
Bolivia earned a share of the spoils through a Jhasmani Campos strike and a late penalty from Marcelo Martins.

It was a frustrating evening for fans at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium, who included female supporters for the first time watching the national team. Coach Pizzi had talked of carrying on from the World Cup which may have started with a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Russia but ended on a high thanks to a deserved 2-1 victory over Egypt.  

Saudi Arabia had been on course for a comfortable and morale-boosting win against a team ranked 11 places higher in FIFA’s ranking at 59 only for defensive
errors to haunt them. Pizzi was candid about the problems at the back and pledged to do everything possible to solve them by the time the Asian Cup kicks off in January, when the team take on Lebanon, Qatar and North Korea in their group.

“We have conceded a lot of goals since I started with the Saudi team so I think it is fair to say that we have some defensive weaknesses,” said Pizzi, who was appointed last November. The Argentine is ready to head to the training pitch to iron out the flaws. 

“The solution to the problem is to work and work and work, and that is what we will do in the coming weeks and months. We will work with the players to increase defensive cohesion and then prepare for the Asian Cup in the best way possible.”

The coach, whose hopes of taking Chile to the World Cup were dealt a huge blow with a defeat to Bolivia in September last year, was keen, however, to point out the positives in the display. 

“Overall, the game was generally good. We started well but Bolivia managed to get a goal in the first half that owed a lot to luck and then they scored again late in the game.”

Pizzi called upon his players to return to their clubs and work hard in the Saudi Pro League in the coming weeks and months. 

“The players who were called
up in the last camp we had were chosen because they had performed well in the league. I will probably do the same again, so I will be keeping a very close eye on the league. Any player can join the team if he is playing well for his club and is ready for the step.”

Young striker Haroune Camara impressed in his first start for the national team and Fahad Al-
Muwallad and Salem Al-Dawsari also looked sharp in attack.

“Camara was with us at a Spanish training camp before the World Cup though was not at his best at the time,” Pizzi said. 

After a fine display at the Asian Games with the Under-23 team, the 20-year-old did enough to earn a place in the squad. 

“His performance was convincing and his future looks bright as he develops in the coming period.”

An official at the Saudi Arabia Football Federation shared the general frustration, but pointed out that there is still some time before the Asian Cup next year. 

“This is just the first game and the season has just started,” the
official told Arab News. 

“A win would have been great, but there were some positive signs especially in attack against a strong South American team. There is still time to go before the Asian Cup and this was just the first game in preparation.”

The Green Falcon’s preparations for the Asian Cup continue in October with a prestige friendly against five-time world champions Brazil in Riyadh. The team will then travel to Amman in November to take on Jordan.


Lewis Hamilton tells rivals ‘catch me if you can’

Updated 20 February 2019
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Lewis Hamilton tells rivals ‘catch me if you can’

  • Five-time world champion feeling confident of a sixth crown ahead of new season.
  • Pre-season testing going well in Barcelona.

BARCELONA: Lewis Hamilton has warned his rivals they had better get ready to catch his dust as he is feeling “better than ever” ahead of the season.
The 34-year-old Briton enjoyed a near flawless run to secure his fifth drivers’ title last year. He won 11 of the 21 races to beat Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel with two races to spare, and he expects the Italian marque to once again keep him on his toes.
“Ferrari are very strong,” Hamilton said in Barcelona on the third day of pre-season testing.
“It appears they have a better package than last year, which means it will be a bigger challenge for us.
“In the last few years, Ferrari has looked good from the very beginning so that’s to be expected.”
But he said it would be a mistake to draw any hard and fast conclusions from the evidence thrown up by testing.
“We’ll have a better idea I guess this time next week where we stand but still then we won’t know what fuel loads everybody is on and who is showing their cars and who isn’t.”
Hamilton, with a new two-year deal that will earn him £40 million ($52 million) a season, is buzzing after the winter recess.
“I feel in the best shape that I’ve been in,” he assured his fans, as he embarks on his quest for a sixth championship and record sixth consecutive constructors’ crown for Mercedes.
On a sixth title he shrugged: “I am not even focusing on that. It’s a new season, a new year, a new chapter and we have to approach like it’s our first.
“We’re going for number one, that’s how I approach it.
“But it’s not something that I allow my peers to talk about. It’s not what we are here for to focus on that number.”
He dismissed out of hand any notion of complacency setting in at his all-conquering team.
“We are always driven to do something new and to break boundaries and do stuff that no one else has done before but we are fully aware of the work that it will take to deliver something like that and it’s by no means like ‘yeah we are going for the sixth’ like it’s a relaxed thing.
“It’s not like that.”
Hamilton’s bid for title number six begins at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 17.