Juan Antonio Pizzi hails perfect preparation after South Korea draw

Having seen his side battle to a 0-0 draw with South Korea on Monday, Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi said the performance had been the perfect preparation for the upcoming Asian Cup in the UAE. (Twitter: @SaudiNT)
Updated 03 January 2019
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Juan Antonio Pizzi hails perfect preparation after South Korea draw

ABU DHABI: Having seen his side battle to a 0-0 draw with South Korea on Monday, Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi said the performance had been the perfect preparation for the upcoming Asian Cup in the UAE.
Pizzi went into the game with Mohammed Al-Owais, Yasser Al-Shahrani and Salem Al-Dosari to call upon, and he made use of his star players in the last friendly before their opening Asian Cup group game against North Korea.
The first half of the game saw a number of Saudi attempts on the Korean goal, but the Green Falcons were unable to break through the resilient defense. 
But Pizzi’s men looked the stronger team at the Baniyas Stadium throughout the game. They managed to restrict the Koreans to eight shots, none of them on target. The Green Falcons also had more of the ball and were the more disciplined of the two teams.
Saudi Arabia got lucky late in the second half when the Koreans missed a penalty kick in the 82nd minute after Ki Song blazed wide from the spot.
After the game, Pizzi was satisfied with the energy levels shown by his team and said the game had been an “interesting encounter between two distinguished teams,” in which both teams “imposed their style on the game.”
Pizzi also confirmed that he took Al-Shahrani off midway through the second half as a precautionary measure, and that the player did not sustain any serious injury and should be fit for the Asian Cup.
Saudi Arabia are in Group E of the Asian Cup with Qatar, Lebanon and North Korea, and will start their bid for glory against the latter at the Maktoum Bin Rashid Stadium.


KSA’s martial arts heroine: ‘I got into kickboxing by coincidence, as I just wanted to join a gym’

Updated 9 min 33 sec ago
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KSA’s martial arts heroine: ‘I got into kickboxing by coincidence, as I just wanted to join a gym’

  • Young Saudi triumphant at Open International Tournament despite just two years of training
  • Zahra Al-Qurashi took the gold in the women’s 70 kg category, beating Jordanian Heba Wasfi

JEDDAH: Zahra Al-Qurashi never expected to be where she is today: A gold medal winner in full contact kickboxing at the Open International Tournament for Clubs aged just 21. What started out as a gym class two years ago soon turned into a passion, leading to her victory in Amman on Sunday.

“I got into kickboxing by coincidence, as I just wanted to join a gym. I found the class and gave it a try, and decided to keep attending the classes,” she said. “A year ago, I joined Flagboxing Gym, and started training with my coach Grethe (Kraugerud). With her help, I developed my style and I am improving every day.”

Full contact is a discipline of kickboxing where punches and kicks must be delivered to legal areas of the body. According to the World Association for Kickboxing Organizations’ rules, it is legal to attack the front of the head and front and side of the torso, using “ankle-level foot sweeps.” It is prohibited to attack the throat, lower abdomen, back, legs, joints, back of the head and top of the shoulders.

A medal at her first international competition, then, speaks volumes about Al-Qurashi’s tenacity. She took the gold in the women’s 70 kg category, beating Jordanian Heba Wasfi.

“As soon as I entered the ring, everything went blank, I couldn’t hear or see anyone but my opponent, so I don’t really recall hearing my name even,” said Al-Qurashi. “I got a couple of really good kicks and punches, but she was a good opponent. I was in my own zone though, following every move and made sure I didn’t make mistakes.”

Zahra Al-Quraishi, 21, is already a gold medal winner at an international event despite being a virtual rookie in the demanding sport of kickboxing. (Supplied photos)

Hala Al-Hamrani, the owner of Flagboxing Gym in Jeddah, said: “I am over the moon. I have dreamt about this happening for 16 years, ever since I started coaching. My goal was to eventually provide the ladies of this country with an opportunity to compete.”

For approximately two months, Kraugerud, from Norway, oversaw Al-Qurashi’s workouts, adding more sparring, interval training and intense ring practice.

“I’ve had Zahra spar with men, who are bigger and stronger than her, to give her a sense of what to expect in the ring, to give her more confidence and make her mentally prepared,” said Kraugerud. “I was very proud of her as she entered the ring, you could see the respect for the sport reflected in her. We did a really good job at Flag, we really pushed for this together as a team. She’s young, but she’s talented and she will go far.”

Al-Hamrani, a member of the Saudi Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Federation, added: “We got her ready by providing her with the right practice and training. It’s a dream come true and it’s very overwhelming because it was such a long process for something like this to happen. Zahra is an up-and-coming athlete who hopefully has a long future and I’m extremely excited to see what that future holds.”

Abdul Aziz Julaidan, chairman of the Saudi MMA Federation, hailed the result after a tough bout between the two competitors, and thanked Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, chairman of the General Sport Authority, for the support he had given to the team.

Upon returning to her hometown of Jeddah, Al-Qurashi was greeted by her mother. “I was hugging her and crying and mom, being mom, asked if I was crying because I got hit,” she laughed. “That was her way of saying: I’m proud of you.”