Saudi Arabia stars told to play abroad in order for the Green Falcons to improve

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Saudi Arabia have ratcheted up their preparations for the Asian Cup in January, having faced Neymar’s Brazil in a friendly last month. (AFP)
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Updated 19 November 2018
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Saudi Arabia stars told to play abroad in order for the Green Falcons to improve

  • AFC Technical Director Andy Roxburgh backs Saudi side to get out their Asian Cup group.
  • The Scot, however, warns Green Falcon stars they need to spread their wings to ensure longer-term success.

LONDON: AFC Technical Director Andy Roxburgh has backed Saudi Arabia to get out of their group at next year’s Asian Cup, but urged players of both countries to gain international experience in Europe’s top leagues. 
In October the Green Falcons lost 2-0 against a star-studded Brazil side and drew 1-1 with Iraq on home soil as preparations for January’s continental championship in the UAE intensified. They then took that form into their 1-0 win over Yemen last week and face Jordan today.
At the 2015 Asian Cup Saudi Arabia were eliminated in the first round, finishing third in a group with China, Uzbekistan and North Korea. 
But Roxburgh, pictured right, who has been AFC technical director for four years, has backed them to do better this time around, highlighting the stability that Juan Antonio Pizzi’s contract extension after the World Cup will give the Green Falcons. 
“Anything that creates continuity and stability is helpful in football,” Roxburgh told Arab News.
“If you are constantly changing the coach every two minutes it isn’t helpful for anybody. Pizzi’s CV is obviously very good having won with Chile in South America and clearly he has a good background.
“They have only won (two matches in their past 10) and that was against Egypt in Russia. Losing to Brazil, though, is clearly not a big deal. That is pretty par for the course, but from the group they are in with North Korea,  Lebanon and Qatar you would expect them to qualify for the next stage.” 

Andy Roxburgh wants to see the young guns that won Saudi Arabia the U-19 Asian Championship go abroad to further their footballing education. (AFP)


Earlier this month Saudi Arabian football received a boost as their side qualified for next year’s U-20 World Cup in Poland. Goals from Turki Al-Ammar and Khaled Issa Al-Ghannam helped the Young Falcons become the U-19 Asian Champions for a third time as they defeated South Korea 2-1 in the final in Jakarta. Roxburgh praised the performance, but warned against reading too much into results from youth football. 
“They have got some very good attacking players in the team,” said Roxburgh. “I just analyzed all the goals from that tournament, 117 goals. The Saudi boys, from the midfield to the attack — some were obviously good on the ball and they could beat people and finish.
“How many might star in the national team? You will be lucky if it is one. So, although it is very positive in a youth development sense, it can only be viewed in the context of the national team in the long term. It would mean that Saudi Arabia need to continue to do well.
“That is where Japan, over many years, have been doing consistently well at youth level. A lot of players that have been coming out of these teams are now playing for the Japanese national team.”
At senior level Japan, the 2011 Asian champions, have benefitted immensely from the international experience their players have gained abroad. In October the Samurai Blue had 10 foreign-based players in their 23-man squad, while Saudi Arabia had none. To bridge the gap with the Asian elite Saudi Arabia and the West Asian region at large need more players to ply their trade in Europe, according to Roxburgh. 
“Whether you like it or not, the top leagues in Europe have the best players in the world,” said Roxburgh. “They have the resources, the money and the crowds. Players from all over the world, inevitably, congregate there. That experience is invaluable when they come back to their national team. Japan and Australia, and to a lesser extent Iran, benefit from that. In the case of the UAE and in particular Saudi Arabia, when you think about it, they are all home-based. So, this is one of the things: As long as the players in the West Asian teams don’t experience the highest level of club football, then that will always be a problem.” 
Still, Roxburgh believes that the Asian Cup will be a very competitive and open tournament as a 24-team format is introduced for the first time.
“It is wide open,” said Roxburgh. “It is not easy to predict this. The tournament comes so fast after the World Cup. If you take what happened in Europe with the expanded European championship. They thought this would be a problem and it turned out the opposite, because of the success of the small countries like Wales and Iceland.”


Finch, Starc shine as Australia beat Sri Lanka in World Cup

Updated 19 min 21 sec ago
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Finch, Starc shine as Australia beat Sri Lanka in World Cup

  • Defending champions record their fourth win of tournament at the Oval encounter

LONDON: Australia captain Aaron Finch and pace bowler Mitchell Starc stole the show as the holders eased to an 87-run win over Sri Lanka at the Oval on Saturday.

Finch equalled his career-best one-day international score with a masterful 153 and Steve Smith chipped in with 73 as Australia scored 334-7.

Needing a World Cup record run-chase to claim a shock win, Sri Lanka got off to a flying start thanks to a first-wicket partnership of 115 between captain Dimuth Karunaratne and Kusal Perera.

But Perera departed for 52 and when Karunaratne fell on 97 the game swung back in Australia’s direction.

Starc was the catalyst with a fiery spell of three wickets in six balls, Australia eventually dismissing Sri Lanka for 247 thanks in large part to his 4-55 from 10 overs.

Kane Williamson added three wickets of his own as Australia made it four wins from their five group matches after previously beating Afghanistan, the West Indies and Pakistan.

Their lone defeat in the 10-team tournament came against India and their latest victory puts them well on course for a semifinal berth.

Sri Lanka, who lost their last seven wickets for 42 runs, have only one win from their five matches, a disappointing run that includes two washouts.

They face a struggle to reach the semifinals with only four matches left, a spell that features encounters with title contenders England and India.

Sri Lanka had briefly looked capable of surpassing the World Cup chase set by Ireland, who made 329-7 to beat England in 2011.

Karunaratne and his opening partner Perera blasted 24 from the first two overs and reached their fifty partnership in just the seventh over.

But Starc bowled Perera and Jason Behrendorff dismissed Lahiru Thirimanne for 16 as Australia hit back.

A six from Kusal Mendis in the 31st over signalled Sri Lanka’s intent to get cracking.

But crucially Karunaratne stumbled short of his maiden World Cup century when he carelessly flicked Richardson to Glenn Maxwell at backward point.

That left Sri Lanka 186-3 and set the stage for Starc to turn the screw by dismissing Milinda Siriwardana, Thisara Perera and Mendis in quick succession.

Mendis’s mistimed drive off Starc reduced Sri Lanka to 222-7 and shattered their resistance.

Earlier, Finch took the Sri Lanka attack apart with a dazzling display that included 15 fours and five sixes.

He was well-supported by Smith’s 73 from 59 balls and the pair put on 173 runs for the third wicket.

Together with opening partner David Warner, Finch took the attack to the Sri Lankans after being put in to bat under cloudy skies in south London.

The pair passed 50 for the opening wicket for the fourth time in five games at the World Cup.

Sri Lanka had no answer to Finch’s brutal assault and by the time he departed, caught by Karunaratne off Isuru Udana, he had put Australia in a commanding position.

Maxwell’s quick-fire 46 from 25 balls rubbed salt into Sri Lanka’s wounds.