Saudi Arabia looking to use Brazil clash as Asian Cup preparation

Saudi winger Salem Al-Dawsari will be looking to cause a few problems for Brazil in Riyadh. (AFP)
Updated 11 October 2018
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Saudi Arabia looking to use Brazil clash as Asian Cup preparation

  • With Asian Cup just three months away Hussein Abdulghani says Green Falcons will gauge where they are at against the Samba stars.
  • Brazil arrive in the Kingdom with all their stars in tow.

LONDON: Saudi Arabia may be preparing for the glamorous and exciting friendly with Brazil in Riyadh on Friday but veteran defender Hussein Abdulghani has his sights set on next year’s Asian Cup.
The clash against the five-time World Cup winners is expected to take place in front of a sell-out crowd at the King Said University Stadium hoping to see the Green Falcons take on stars such as Neymar and Philippe Coutinho. But the Saudi Arabia players cannot afford to get star struck as they test themselves against the best, with the continental competition less than three months away.
“The Asian Cup is a big competition for Saudi Arabia,” Abdulghani, who has made 134 appearances for his country and won the tournament as a teenager back in 1996, said. “The last time the tournament took place in the UAE, we were champions and we want to have that success again. The team is going well and we need to continue the good form that we showed when finishing  the World Cup (with victory over Egypt).”
Brazil present another South American test for coach Juan Antonio Pizzi and his men following the narrow defeat to Uruguay at the World Cup, a result that they followed with a win over Egypt. Abdulghani, who has just returned to the Saudi Pro League to play for Ohod after a spell in Bulgaria did not go to Russia but is delighted to be back.
“I was so happy to get the call and if my experience can help then that would be great,” added Abdulghani who is looking forward to playing against Brazil for the third time after appearances at the 1997 and 1999 Confederations Cups.
“Brazil will be a very difficult opponent with all the world-class talent they have and this will give us a great test going forward.”
In terms of preparations for January’s Asian Cup — when Saudi Arabia take on North Korea, Lebanon and Qatar in Group E — Monday’s game with Iraq, who beat Pizzi’s side 4-1 back in February, is just as important.
“Iraq are a good team with plenty of talent and this will give us an idea of what to expect at  the Asian Cup.”
Since the World Cup, Saudi Arabia have had just one game, a frustrating 2-2 draw with Bolivia when the South Americans came back from 2-0 down.
Al-Ahli striker Mohanned Asseri is struggling for fitness and is unlikely to play any part in the two matches and a muscle strain means that Al-Nassr midfielder Abdulaziz Al-Jebreen is also a doubt. In better news for Pizzi and Green Falcons fans, Al-Hilal midfield star Salman Al-Faraj is expected to recover from a slight knock to face the Brazilians if called upon.
Brazil started training at Tottenham Hotspur’s training ground on the outskirts of London and arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday. It has been speculated in the Brazilian media that star attacker Neymar will start along Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus as the Manchester City striker returns to the team after an indifferent World Cup in which he failed to score — Brazil exiting at the quarterfinal stage after a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Belgium.
Saudi Arabia midfielder Housain Al-Moghwali said that while they are aware of the class of the South Americans, he and his teammates do not fear the Samba stars.
“Coach Pizzi has given us confidence and we are looking forward to the game against a team that needs no introduction,” the Al-Ahli man said.
“We have to make use of this for the Asian Cup. Our target is not just to get past the first round but we want to get to the final and win. This experience of playing Brazil can only help us.”


Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal into Monte Carlo last eight

Updated 18 April 2019
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Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal into Monte Carlo last eight

  • Medvedev eliminates 6th seed Tsitsipas in three sets

MONTE CARLO: Top seed Novak Djokovic and 11-time champion Rafael Nadal showed no mercy in dominating wins to power into the Monte Carlo Masters quarterfinals on Thursday.

Djokovic extended his winning streak against US players with a 6-3, 6-0 defeat of Taylor Fritz.

The two-time tournament champion has now won nine in a row over Americans since losing at Wimbledon in 2016 to Sam Querrey.

“It was very challenging to play in these (windy) conditions,” Djokovic said. “Taylor just flattens the ball.

“We had five, six close games in the first set, I just managed to break his resistance midway through.

“After that, things went on my side and I felt more comfortable.

“This was one of these days where you just have to hang in there and try to put an extra ball back in the court — that was enough.”

Nadal repeated last year’s semifinal win over Grigor Dimitrov, beating the Bulgarian for the 12th time, 6-4, 6-1.

“I’m very, very happy, this is an important victory for me,” the second seed said after winning his 23rd consecutive set at the tournament.

“Grigor is a super talent and is very dangerous. It was a positive match for me.

“I had a good day, I can be happy with what I did on court.

“When you don’t play on clay for almost a year, every win is important for the confidence, especially as I’m coming back from injury.”

Spain’s 17-time Grand Slam champion started his clay season this week after missing a month with another knee problem and has title-holder points to defend here plus Barcelona, Rome and Roland Garros.

The king of clay is bidding for a 12th trophy in the principality. His record at the event is a staggering 70-4.

Nadal spent almost an hour in securing the first set but picked up the pace in the second as he ran out the winner.

He next faces Guido Pella, who defeated Italy’s Marco Cecchinato 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.

World No. 1 Djokovic will be playing his ninth quarterfinal here from 13 appearances at his home event.

Djokovic turned in a steady performance with a dozen winners and unforced errors, while his opponent committed nearly 30 unforced errors in 68 minutes.

Sixth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas earlier lost 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 as Daniil Medvedev continued his run of form.

The Russian will next line up against Djokovic after losing to him in January in the Australian Open fourth round.

Tsitsipas was caught on the back foot facing three match points as he trailed 0-40 on his serve late in the second set. After saving the first two, the Greek botched the third to seal his exit after an hour and three-quarters.

Medvedev increased his leading total of ATP season match wins to 20 as a result after he beat Tsitsipas for the fourth time in as many attempts.

“This was a great achievement for me,” Medvedev said. “Everything was perfect today.

“Some wind came up in the second set and I could not get used to it. But in the third, I just worked to put every ball in the court.

“I was pleased to fight back after going a break down in the third set.”

The player who stands a career-high 14th credits his rising form to a renewed dedication to the sport.

“I’ve been working hard for the past 18 months —  since before the start of 2018. I’ve dedicated my life to tennis, which I did not do before,” Medvedev said.

“I had my best season last year — hopefully this year will be better.”

The Russian reached his first quarterfinal at the Masters 1000 level after winning his second match against a Top 10 opponent.

Tsitsipas, runner-up last season to Nadal in Toronto, suffered his eighth defeat of the season against 18 wins and will try and lift his game next week on the clay of Barcelona. 

Italian qualifier Lorenzo Sonego defeated Britain’s Cameron Norrie 6-2, 7-5.