Juan Antonio Pizzi upbeat ahead of Saudi Arabia opener against North Korea

Pizzi says his players are ready to get their campaign underway in the UAE. (AFP)
Updated 08 January 2019
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Juan Antonio Pizzi upbeat ahead of Saudi Arabia opener against North Korea

  • Green Falcons coach confident side can make statement of intent at Asian Cup.
  • Pizzi's players to face North Korea in Dubai on Tuesday.

LONDON: Saudi Arabia have been told not to get ahead of themselves as they prepare to face North Korea in their Group E opener today.
The Green Falcons head into the tournament as one of the favorites to lift the trophy come Feb. 1. On the back of a first win at the World Cup — a 2-1 victory over Egypt in Russia last June — Juan Antonio Pizzi’s players have enjoyed a successful past six months, losing just once to Brazil.
But perhaps only too aware that among those results have been four draws and that this tournament has already thrown up some surprising results — the most striking of which was Jordan’s 1-0 win over Australia on Sunday — the coach has warned his side they must take it game by game to avoid an early exit.
“I am personally considering each game as an important one. The match against North Korea will be important to us,” Pizzi said.
“Once we get through them then we will focus on our next games.”
The last time Saudi Arabia played in a tournament opener it ended in an embarrassing 5-0 defeat at the hands of hosts Russia at last year’s World Cup. From that moment on it was always unlikely the Green Falcons would fly in to the knockout stages, even if improved performances in their matches against Uruguay and Egypt have proved to be a valuable springboard to this month’s Asian Cup.
With lessons learned from the showpiece in Russia and with the players’ feet ordered to be planted firmly on the ground Pizzi, while preaching caution, cut a confident figure ahead of the North Korea clash.
“(The match against North
Korea) is going to be important and personally we prepared very well for the tournament,” Pizzi said. “With trust in the team, I would like to repeat that with ambition and confidence we will hope to achieve our goals.”
The commonly used but generally accurate mantra for every coach and team heading into a tournament is to avoid defeat in the first match. North Korea, while not a continental powerhouse like their southern neighbors, are savvy operators and will likely prove obdurate opponents in their clash at Dubai’s Rashid Stadium.
That quality is not lost on the Green Falcons coach who said the standard of Asian football has risen substantially in the past few years — an improvement witnessed at the World Cup when the continent had five representatives for the first time.
“Recently Asian football had improved a lot and it would be a good tournament to participate in,” Pizzi said.
The one downside the coach has had to deal with heading into the opener is an injury to Salman Al-Faraj. The midfielder was Saudi Arabia’s standout player at the World Cup but has failed to recover in time to make the starting line-up.
“We took maximum time to decide on Salman. We tried in all manners to have him with our squad. We also appreciate the effort by Salman to try to be with us,” Pizzi said.
“Unfortunately he did not pass the final training session.”


From near-death in Libyan desert to Saudi Arabia in 40 years: A history of the Dakar Rally

Updated 25 April 2019
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From near-death in Libyan desert to Saudi Arabia in 40 years: A history of the Dakar Rally

  • Race will start in Jeddah and make a stop in Riyadh before ending in Qiddiya
  • Take a look back at the most momentous moments

LONDON: A new and exciting chapter in the prestigious history of the Dakar Rally is ready to be written as the world’s biggest and most challenging rally confirmed it will debut in Saudi Arabia in January 2020.

1977: Inspiration
Biker Thierry Sabine gets lost in the Libyan desert while competing in the Abidjan-Nice Rally. After being rescued from the sands on the verge of death, he vows to share the scale and magic of the desert with the whole world.

1978: A dream come true
On 26 December 1978, a field of 170 adventurers starts its 10,000-kilometer quest through Algeria, Niger, Mali, the Upper Volta, and Senegal. A total of 74 vehicles make it to the finish on Place de l’Indépendance in Dakar, with Cyril Neveu at the helm.

1983: Ickx on all fronts
Celebrities and the best drivers and riders in the world heed the call of the Dakar. The combination is a successful one, with the six-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans Jacky Ickx and comedian Claude Brasseur taking the spoils in the fourth edition.

1986: Tragedy strikes
Thierry Sabine and Daniel Balavoine die in a helicopter crash alongside pilot François-Xavier Bagnoud, journalist Nathalie Odent and radio technician Jean-Paul Lefur. Gilbert Sabine, the father of the creator of the race, takes over as director.

1992: Africa from north to south
The Dakar takes a break from the capital of Senegal to pit the competitors against the challenge of a lifetime. The drivers and riders have to tackle a route of almost 12,500 kilometers through 11 countries to cross Africa from one side to the other and reach Cape Town in South Africa. Stéphane Peterhansel (motorbikes) and Hubert Auriol (cars) stand atop the podium at the end of the Odyssey.

1998: Peterhansel rolls a six
The biker with a blue bandana emerges victorious from a clash of titans with Orioli and Arcarons to become the undisputed master of the category in the 1990s. His sixth win catapults him past Cyril Neveu as the event record holder. “Peter” has since added seven car victories to his tally!

2000: At the foot of the pyramids
The Dakar marks the turn of the century next to one of the seven wonders of the world: the Great Pyramid of Giza. Reigning champions Richard Sainct (motorbikes) and Jean-Louis Schlesser (cars) both manage to defend their titles against this prestigious backdrop.

2001: Miss Dakar
No one suspects that this will be the last Paris–Dakar. In contrast, everyone sees Jutta Kleinschmidt, who had made her Dakar debut in 1988 on a motorbike, become the first woman to win the rally, this time racing at the wheel of a Mitsubishi 4×4. She remains the only female winner of the event to date.

2009: Rising from the ashes in Buenos Aires
The Dakar picks itself up and crosses the Atlantic to rise from the ashes. A new era dawns with 4 million spectators turning out in force to cheer on the drivers and riders in the majestic landscapes of Argentina and Chile.

2012: Pacific Challenge
After three years with a route starting and ending in Buenos Aires, the organizers break the mold with a finish on the Pacific coast of Lima, Peru.

2014: Dizzying heights
Bolivia becomes the 28th country to host the Dakar. The Altiplano and Salar de Uyuni introduce a new test for the competitors: extreme altitude, which takes a toll on both their bodies and their machines.

2020: Chapter 3
In the wake of its first foray into Paraguay in 2017, the Dakar adds the 30th country to its list. In Saudi Arabia, the largest country on the Arabian Peninsula, the competitors will face challenges such as the “Empty Quarter,” a pristine expanse that has never been explored fully before.