Juan Antonio Pizzi praises impact of Hatan Bahbri after Lebanon win in Asian Cup

Updated 14 January 2019

Juan Antonio Pizzi praises impact of Hatan Bahbri after Lebanon win in Asian Cup

  • Pizzi also paid tribute to the rest of his players for the well-deserved victory
  • Saudi Football Federation President Qusay Al-Fawaz also complimented Pizzi and his side’s organization

LONDON: Juan Antonio Pizzi’s Saudi Arabia side showed a ruthless professionalism in dispatching Lebanon at the weekend, and the Argentine coach urged the Green Falcons to avoid taking their foot off the gas as they look to finish the group stages with a 100 percent record.
Speaking after Fahad Al-Muwallad and Housain Al-Moqahwi sealed a 2-0 win over the Cedars — which sent Saudi Arabia into the Asian Cup last-16 — Pizzi praised his team and the impact of Hatan Bahbri in particular.
“Hatan (Bahbri) is actually doing very, very well and playing at a very good level,” the Argentine said of the Al-Shabbab midfielder.
“He was not with us during the first training camp due to injury, but joined us for the second, where he showed his dedication, concentration and effort.”
Bahbri, who scored his first international goal for the Green Falcons in their group opener against North Korea, was instrumental in Saudi Arabia’s second goal against Lebanon — delivering a pinpoint cross into the box for Al-Moqahwi to slot the ball into the net.
“He is a player you would like to have in your team because of his qualities, but I hope he will not be relaxed at the level he has reached because he can reach further than this.
“He has many chances to be better. I wouldn’t say he is the best, but he is definitely among our best players,” Pizzi said.
Pizzi also paid tribute to the rest of his players for the well-deserved victory.
“The players committed to the tactics and strategy,” he said.
“Individually, each player did their job perfectly. I’m very happy with their performance and the result.”
Saudi Arabia face Qatar in their final group game as Pizzi’s charges look to top the group and orchestrate an easier route to the final. But the Argentine said each game will pose a threat to his team.
“As time goes by, the matches become more difficult because the other teams are well acquainted with our team and how we play, which is normal, but we will certainly be well prepared for each match,” he said.
“We have five days to work on the next game, and all the players in the the squad are fully prepared and ready for that.”
Saudi Football Federation President Qusay Al-Fawaz also complimented Pizzi and his side’s organization, mental toughness and efforts in qualifying for the knockout stage a game early.
“We will treat this game as a win and only three points, and the team will be ready to prepare for the next confrontation, according to our strategy to continue the tournament,” Al-Fawaz said.
Meanwhile, defeat for Lebanon leaves their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stage hanging by a thread. They must now win their final group match against North Korea on Thursday to stand any chance of progressing as one of the best four third-placed teams.
Head coach Miodrag Radulovic commended Saudi Arabia for their victory but rued his side’s missed opportunities.
“I want to congratulate Saudi Arabia for the victory, they deserved to win, but also, I’m a little bit disappointed with losing two clean chances in the first half. When you don’t score, you can’t achieve a positive result,” said Radulovic.
“We didn’t use our chances, my players should learn from these games but I’m not disappointed with their performance, just on missing the two chances.
“For my team now, it’s very important to have a good rest and recover, and to try to win the last game. I think it will be enough to (reach) the next round.”


Djokovic not worried about blisters ahead of US Open

Updated 25 August 2019

Djokovic not worried about blisters ahead of US Open

  • When the year's last Grand Slam tournament begins Monday, Djokovic will be in Arthur Ashe Stadium during the afternoon session, facing Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain

NEW YORK: During a break in practice two days before opening his US Open title defense, Novak Djokovic pulled off his blue shoe and white sock so a trainer could look at his right foot.

Did it again a little while later.

And then, toward the end of Saturday’s training session in Louis Armstrong Stadium with 2014 runner-up Kei Nishikori, Djokovic stopped a sprint and pulled up short of a ball, raised his right leg off the ground entirely and hopped repeatedly on his left, wincing. Nothing to worry about, Djokovic said later at his pre-tournament news conference: Just blisters.

“A minor thing,” Djokovic called it. “Like anybody has ... Nothing major that is causing a concern for the event.”

When the year's last Grand Slam tournament begins Monday, Djokovic will be in Arthur Ashe Stadium during the afternoon session, facing Roberto Carballes Baena, a 26-year-old from Spain whose career-best ranking was 72nd.

Carballes Baena has an overall career record of 43-50. That includes 2-7 at major tournaments, 1-1 at Flushing Meadows, where he made his debut a year ago and lost in the second round.

Djokovic, meanwhile, has won 33 of his past 34 Grand Slam matches en route to collecting four of the past five major titles. That allowed the 32-year-old Serb to raise his career haul to 16 trophies, putting him just two away from second-place Rafael Nadal’s total of 18, and Roger Federer’s 20, which is the record for men.

He’s not shy about trying to catch those guys.

“More or less everything is about Grand Slams, in terms of how I see tennis and how I approach it, because they matter the most,” Djokovic said. “So I will definitely try to play my best tennis — and aim to play my best tennis — at these events.”

And while many would attribute Djokovic's success to his ability to return serves, say, or his mental strength and propensity for coming up big in the biggest moments — such as saving two match points along the way to edging Federer in a fifth-set tiebreaker in the Wimbledon final last month — there's something else the man himself would point to as his most vital quality.

That's the way Djokovic can cover a court, which is why the state of that right foot is actually a rather big deal.

His movement, Djokovic said Saturday, is "the base of everything" and "the most important thing."

"It just allows you to be more in balance. And at the end of the day, that is what you're looking for as a tennis player," he explained. "How can you hit the ball, being in the right balance, so you can penetrate the ball with the right speed, accuracy and precision?"

Watch Djokovic during a match, and you'll see him change direction in a heartbeat, twist and turn, contort his limbs, slide — on clay, on grass, even on hard courts — always getting to the right spot at the right time.

He attributes his strength in that area to the flexibility of his ankles and is grateful he used to participate in another sport while growing up back home in Serbia.

"I credit my childhood spent on the skis. I used to spend a lot of time skiing," Djokovic said. "That had an effect as well, with kind of coordination and changing movement from one side to another. Even though they're different sports, in essence, you're using some major muscle groups and joints and stuff like this in most of the sports."

It is Djokovic's right elbow that gave him the most trouble a couple of seasons ago.

He missed the last half of 2017, including that year's US Open because that arm was bothering him, then wound up having surgery in February 2018. It took some time for Djokovic to get going after that. All's good these days, though.

"Novak had a couple years where he didn't seem like the same guy," ESPN's John McEnroe said. "Now he's back with a vengeance."

Only 1½ months have passed since Djokovic edged Federer in that classic title match at the All England Club.

Not a lot of time to savor the victory. Not a lot of time to rest a weary body.

"This sport can be a little bit 'cruel,'" Djokovic said, using fingers to indicate air quotes, "when it comes to, I guess, marveling or celebrating your own success. You don't have that much luxury of time to really reflect on everything because the season keeps going."