Juan Antonio Pizzi confident Saudi Arabia can mount an Asian Cup title challenge

Salem Al-Dawsari scored for the Green Falcons during their 4-0 win over North Korea and will be a key man for the side in the UAE. (AFP))
Updated 11 January 2019
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Juan Antonio Pizzi confident Saudi Arabia can mount an Asian Cup title challenge

LONDON: Saudi Arabia are feeling confident and ready to take on anyone, that is the message Juan Antonio Pizzi has delivered to the team’s title rivals ahead of today’s Group E clash against Lebanon.
The Green Falcons won their opening match in emphatic style against North Korea on Tuesday. The 4-0 win seemingly imbuing the side with a lot of belief as well as the all-important three points.
They can confirm their spot in the second round with victory over a Lebanon side who felt aggrieved during their 2-0 loss at the hands of Qatar — coach Miodrag Radulovic hitting out at what his thought was awful refereeing.
Pizzi and his players are chomping at the bit to get at the Cedars and confirm that they are one of the teams to beat in the UAE.
“If the team continues at the level that they did against North Korea, it will be difficult for any other nation in the tournament to defeat us,” the coach said.
“We are ready for (the match against Lebanon), we hope to apply what we planned for in the match. We trust in our abilities and will look to impose our philosophy.”
Such confidence is perhaps understandable. The win was Saudi Arabia’s first in an Asian Cup since 1996 and only confirmed that the good run of form shown coming into the tournament was a pointer to possible success rather than false promise.
But while confidence is clear for all too see Pizzi insisted they will not be taking victory against Lebanon for granted.
“I previously said at the beginning of the tournament that every team has its strong points, and I think Lebanon are ready to match our strengths. We know the only way to win is to do our best,” the former Spain international said.
Green Falcons midfielder Hussein Al-Moqahwi illustrated the players were singing from the same song book as their boss revealing he and his teammates were expecting a tough test against Radulovic’s team.
“Tomorrow’s game will be tough, especially since Lebanon lost their first match,” the midfielder said. “This is one of the most dangerous games, but hopefully the three points will be ours.”
Before the tournament Pizzi emphasized the benefit of finally having his players all together for a long stretch of time, saying he was able implement his ideas far better than at the World Cup, when he was only six months into the job and very much in at the deep end.
That is something Al-Moqahwi agreed with.
“We have adapted to the manager’s style of play and hopefully will be able to implement it during the match,” he said.


Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City ease past Huddersfield to cut Liverpool’s Premier League lead

Updated 20 January 2019
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Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City ease past Huddersfield to cut Liverpool’s Premier League lead

HUDDERSFIELD: Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola was far from satisfied despite a 3-0 win away to Huddersfield Town on Sunday that saw his side cut Liverpool’s lead at the top of the Premier League table to four points.
Liverpool’s compelling 4-3 win over Crystal Palace on Saturday heaped huge pressure back onto reigning champions City but they were rarely troubled by a Town side that look a certain bet for relegation this season.
City’s first goal, a deflected strike for Danilo in the 18th minute, brought up their 100th goal of the season in all competitions before Raheem Sterling scored a diving header from Leroy Sane’s cross in the 54th minute and Sane himself made it 3-0 with a calm finish just two minutes later.
For Guardiola, it should have been an afternoon of enjoyment as his side again proved their willingness to push Liverpool all the way this season.
The City manager, however, has forged a footballing reputation based on sublime performances as well as ruthless goalscoring and, on that basis, his team’s showing in West Yorkshire was not a success as the visitors never really clicked into gear on a day against a Huddersfield side who had parted company with manager David Wagner on Monday.
“During the season you have these kind of games,” Guardiola said. “It is important to win. We have scored many goals in all competitions.
“(But) the way we played, we didn’t deserve more than three goals. We will improve in the future.
“We have to demand more from ourselves in every game and do our best, but sometimes it’s difficult.
“Today we are happy we have won but after immediately we have to analyze. During the season you have games when maybe you are not in the top level and it is important to win these games.”
Although City’s fans were happier than their manager following this result, Guardiola could at least take some heart from the fact his side again refused to blink first in the race for the title.
For the second consecutive week, City kicked off knowing Liverpool had already won their weekend fixture and that, consequently, the onus was back on his players to secure three points as well.
Once again, Guardiola’s side managed to do that following up the 3-0 victory over Wolves with this showing and the City manager was more than happy to remind everybody that silverware is not handed out for another four months.
“One team has been better but we’re in January and there’s many more games to play,” he added.
“You don’t win or lose the Premier League in January. We have to focus on what we have to do. If Liverpool win, we have to win. And if Liverpool lose then we also have to win.”
This match was a baptism of fire for Huddersfield’s caretaker boss Mark Hudson and while the Terriers showed impressive fight to inspire some hope this season, this defeat still left them 10 points adrift of safety.
If, as expected, the Borussia Dortmund Under-23 coach Jan Siewert is appointed as Wagner’s permanent replacement, nobody would blame him if he spent his first day in the job preparing for a return to the second-tier Championship next season.
“It’s been a long week,” admitted Hudson.