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.”


Maurizio Sarri does not fear the sack after Chelsea’s sorry show against Manchester United

Updated 19 February 2019
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Maurizio Sarri does not fear the sack after Chelsea’s sorry show against Manchester United

  • Italian still focused on job at hand with Blues out the FA Cup and falling in the Premier League.
  • Sarri has lost the fans in a short space of time at Stamford Bridge. (AFP)

LONDON: Maurizio Sarri insists he is not worried about being sacked as Chelsea manager despite his troubled side’s lacklustre FA Cup surrender against Manchester United.
Sarri faces a fight to save his job after FA Cup holders Chelsea crashed to a 2-0 fifth round defeat at Stamford Bridge on Monday.
Ander Herrera headed United into the lead from Paul Pogba’s cross in the 31st minute.
France star Pogba doubled United’s advantage on the stroke of half-time when he met Marcus Rashford’s cross with a diving header.
Sarri endured chants of “you don’t know what you’re doing” and “you’re getting sacked in the morning” as furious Chelsea fans showed their frustration at the club’s fifth defeat in their last 10 games.
Chelsea’s stars, publicly criticized by their manager on several occasions this term, hardly looked to be battling to keep the Italian as they failed to muster a shot on target after the 11th minute.
Sarri’s fragile relationship with his players, combined with the mutinous atmosphere among supporters, increased the feeling that the former Napoli boss might not survive until the end of his first season with Chelsea.
Demanding Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has acted quickly in the past when managers have been perceived to have lost the support of the squad.
But Sarri is adamant he isn’t concerned about his perilous position and he claimed he is solely focused on salvaging his club’s turbulent season.
Asked if he was worried Abramovich might be ready to wield the axe, Sarri said: “It’s not my problem.
“I was only worried about my position when I was in League 2 in Italy, not now.
“I am worried about the results, not about the fans. Of course I can understand the situation.
“I can understand our fans, because the result wasn’t really good. We are out of the FA Cup.”
Following widespread reports that Sarri’s players are underwhelmed by his stubborn refusal to change his tactics, the 60-year-old did make the alarming admission that he wasn’t certain he still had their backing.
“Of course I’m not sure, but I think so. I think the situation with the players is very good in terms of our relationship but that’s not so important,” he said.
“What’s important is to play and get good results.”
Chelsea supporters called for their club’s former legend Frank Lampard, now in charge at Derby, to be hired and directed foul-mouthed abuse at Sarri.
“Not really very well, but sometimes yes. For everything there is the first time,” he said when quizzed on if he heard the taunts from his own fans.
Sarri believes his situation will be improved significantly if Chelsea can string together a winning run, starting with Thursday’s Europa League last 32 second leg against Malmo and the League Cup final against Manchester City on Sunday.
“It’s really very easy. If we are able to win three or four matches in a row, it will be easy. Of course it’s difficult to win five matches in a row,” he said with a curious smirk that suggested he didn’t really believe his own outward optimism.
“We need of course more aggression, more determination in the situation inside our box and inside the opposing box.
“My job is to work with my players to try and improve in a few days because we conceded the second goal without determination or aggression.
“The difference was there. We played 78 balls in the opposing box and United only 16 balls our box. We are supposed to win.”
Having previously questioned whether his players understood his football philosophy, Sarri repeated that complaint.
“Not completely at the moment because, especially in a situation like the second half, we have to move the ball faster mentally and materially,” he said.
“We need more movements without the ball and less individual actions.”