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.


Work still to be done for Egypt's Al-Ahly in quest for African Champions League glory

Updated 23 September 2018
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Work still to be done for Egypt's Al-Ahly in quest for African Champions League glory

  • The Egyptian giants took a step closer to a ninth continental title
  • Attention immediately changed to the first leg against Setif in Cairo on Oct. 2

CAIRO: Al-Ahly coach Patrice Carteron has warned his players against complacency in their forthcoming African Champions League semifinal clash against Setif of Algeria, even though his side swept through with a 4-0 quarterfinal second-leg victory over Guinea’s Horoya in Cairo on Saturday.
The Egyptian giants took a step closer to a ninth continental title with the win against the Guineans after a goalless first leg. From the moment Walid Soliman opened the scoring after 32 minutes at the Al-Salam Stadium, the result was never in doubt as the Reds put in a dominant performance.
Second half goals from Islam Mohareb, Salah Mohsen and Ahmed Fathy confirmed the win.
“It was a good performance, especially as the pitch was poor,” Carteron said. “We are happy to go through but we controlled the game, especially in the second half when we were at our best. We adjusted our offensive strategy at the break and that made a difference.”
Attention immediately changed to the first leg against Setif in Cairo on Oct. 2.
“We know that the game will be very tough as Setif are a strong team but this is the semifinal of the Champions League, you know that any game is going to be tough,” added the Frenchman.
Setif defeated defending champions Wydad Casablanca of Morocco 1-0 on aggregate and will host Al-Ahly in Algeria in the second leg on Oct. 23.
“Setif were the champions in 2014 and we know that we are going to have be at our best if we are going to the final,” said the 48 year-old, who also coached TP Mazembe of Congo to the 2015 title. He is aiming to deliver similar success for Al-Ahly, who last lifted the trophy in 2013.
“When I took the job three months ago, the target was clear: to win the Champions League. That is still the objective and we have taken a big step toward that today.
“Standards in the competition are getting better all the time and results in the quarterfinal show this,” Carteron said, adding that he and his players had taken note of how Mazembe had been knocked out at the last-eight stage.
“Now we are in the semifinal and we have to prepare as well as we can to face Setif. It will be a big challenge but we are looking forward to it.”
Setif reached the semifinal after a 0-0 draw in the second leg in Morocco on Friday to take the tie 1-0 on aggregate following a win on Algerian soil a week earlier.
Goalkeeper Moustapha Zeghba was the star of the show in Casablanca and made a number of fine saves to deny the defending champions.
It was a feather in the cap for coach Rachid Taoussi, a Moroccan who coached Wydad from 2002 to 2003.
“We managed this game very well,” Taoussi said. “We withstood the pressure. It is not easy to keep out such a team, especially with their fans behind them. In the end they had to play long balls and that made it easier for us to defend.”
While Morocco may have lost its sole representative left in the competition, Taoussi is flying the flag for his homeland. “I am proud to be Moroccan. I respect Wydad and the supporters a lot. It’s not easy for anyone to come here and play like we did.
“It is also a demonstration for those who constantly criticize the skills of Moroccan coaches. I’m so happy. That said, the most important thing for us now is to think about going even further in this competition, that is, reaching the final. We have one more step to go; we will give everything until the end.”
The other semifinal sees a third North African team trying to reach the showpiece event as Esperance de Tunis take on Clube Desportivo de Agosto of Angola.