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

Updated 14 January 2019
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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.”


Giorgio Chiellini confident Juventus can buck recent trend of Supercoppa defeats

Though upbeat, Juventus captain Giorgio Chiellini admitted that it will be a “difficult match.” (AN Photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 16 January 2019
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Giorgio Chiellini confident Juventus can buck recent trend of Supercoppa defeats

  • Skipper also happy the match is being played in Jeddah, and sees it as a ‘step forward’ for Saudi Arabia
  • AC Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso sidesteps questions about Gonzalo Higuain’s rumored move to English Premier League

JEDDAH: Juventus have been experiencing a worrying trend in cup finals of late. Despite securing the Serie A and Coppa Italia double for three seasons running, they have lost back-to-back Supercoppas and seven out of nine European cup finals. It’s a trend, however, that captain Giorgio Chiellini believes can be halted on January 16 when his side takes on AC Milan in the Supercoppa Italiana final at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
“We want to change that trend that has seen us lose the last two Supercoppa finals, and this is the ideal opportunity,” said the defender. “We have changed a great deal in two years, but we’ve got to prove ourselves with actions rather than words because we let a few too many of these trophies slip through our fingers and it’s a shame.
“It’s going to be a difficult match but the objective is to start 2019 lifting a trophy above our heads.”
Chiellini also defended the choice of Jeddah as the venue for the game against a backdrop of criticism by some. He said that it was “right” to give the Saudi port city the chance to host the showpiece match.
“I am happy this game is being played here and can be seen as a further reason for progress in this country, and I see it as a step forward and not a problem,” he said. “We (soccer players) cannot change the world but initiatives such as this can provide a new start.
“We have been given a warm welcome and I hope tomorrow can be remembered by the Saudi people as a wonderful celebration. We have to provide a spectacle of Italian football and know that all fans will be happy with our performances.”
As the rival teams faced the media on the eve of the match, both were confident about their chances of lifting the first silverware of the Italian soccer season. This year marks the 31st Supercoppa, a match contested by the previous season’s Serie A domestic league champions and the winners of the Coppa Italia. When a single team wins both honors, as was the case last season, they take on the Coppa Italia runners-up.
This year’s game, the tickets for which reportedly sold out in two days, might also mark a farewell to Italian football for striker Gonzalo Higuain, who is currently on loan to AC Milan from Juventus but is widely rumored to be on the verge of a move to Chelsea in the English Premier League. If the Argentine international is indeed on his way out, he will be hoping to end his stay with the Rossoneri with some silverware while also, perhaps, sticking it to his parent club.

Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso (center) said Higuain has never told him he wants to leave the club. (AN Photo by Huda Bashatah)

Asked about the status of any transfer talks, AC Milan head coach Gennaro Gattuso was careful to avoid feeding the rumor mill.
“At this moment, I have to repeat the same words: there are many rumors but Higuain is training well and working with everyone just fine and is at our disposal,” he said. “I base my decisions on how players train during the week and how they work with the staff and their teammates. We’ll see tomorrow whether he plays or not.
“I want to reiterate that Higuain has never told me he wants to leave. I am waiting for that. He has to decide what to do, how to resolve this issue, but right now he is training with great professionalism. We’ll see.”
Gattuso then nipped this line of questioning in the bud by adding: “I want to be honest; I don’t even want to talk about Higuain as we’re here for the Supercoppa.”
Juventus head coach Massimiliano Allegri, meanwhile, is well aware that while they are undefeated in Serie A this season after 19 games, with 17 wins and two draws, league form counts for little in a cup final, as evidenced by their recent results in such games. As such, he is keen to avoid any complacency among his players.
“One of the great strengths of this team is our respect for the opposition, otherwise you don’t win as many games as we have,” he said. “There are 22 points separating our teams in Serie A but those don’t matter here. If we do not have great humility and respect for Milan tomorrow, then it’s unlikely we will win the game.”
The prematch press conference inevitably included questions about Cristiano Ronaldo. Since his 112 million euro ($128 million) move to Juventus from Real Madrid last summer, the Portuguese star has netted 15 goals in 25 appearances. On Wednesday, the five-time winner of the Ballon d'Or — an award presented each year by France Football magazine to the player judged to be the best in the world — will aim to lift his maiden trophy with his new club, after having bagged 15 titles during his nine years with the Spanish giants.
While Ronaldo did not appear at the press conference, Allegri was asked whether the striker had arrived in Italy with a stronger and hungrier desire to win.
“He would have to win something first to prove that,” the coach said. “Cristiano is accustomed to winning; he has won four of the past five Champions Leagues and many more titles. Ronaldo is the best player in the world and clearly an added bonus for us. Our situation has certainly improved with his presence.”
Wednesday night’s match is sure to be hotly contested, as Juventus and AC Milan currently share the record for Supercoppa titles, with seven each. While Juventus are making their seventh successive Supercoppa appearance, it is perhaps AC Milan who can lay claim to bragging rights, given that the last time these two teams met in the Supercoppa, in 2016, the Rossoneri ended up on top following a penalty shoot-out after the game ended in a 1-1 draw after extra time. With all the talking officially done, all that remains is a historic night of top quality soccer at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium.