LONDON: Juan Antonio Pizzi has called for more Saudi Arabian players to play abroad if the Green Falcons want to return to the top of Asian football.
The coach was speaking having watched his side exit the Asian Cup at the hands of Japan — a Takehiro Tomiyasu header after 20 minutes the enough to see the Blue Samurai through to the last-eight.
Saudi Arabia were in the ascendancy early on but it was Japan who snatched the advantage with a straightforward goal from a set piece on 20 minutes.
From a corner, Japan defender Tomiyasu climbed above his marker and nodded firmly into the bottom corner. The Green Falcons twice came close with headers as they strived for a way back, and Hatan Bahbri curled one just off-target as he went for the top corner.
Saudi Arabia could find no way past a resolute Japan defence in Sharjah. (AFP)
But they could not find a way past an organized and determined Japanese backline and paid the price with an early exit.
For Pizzi the lesson of the tournament is that Saudi Arabia’s finest talents need to get more experience in Europe if the side is to take on the continent and world’s best on a regular basis.
“The league has not developed enough and football in other places has improved. It’s tough to have success if you change philosophies every year. Players must go to Europe,” the former Spain international said.
“I am very satisfied with the performance of the players who adhered to my directions on the pitch, and we will analyze our mistakes right away. We just did not have the final touch in the match.”
Last year, before the World Cup, three of Saudi Arabia’s leading lights did play in Spain in a bid to get more exposure to top-class football. Salem Al-Dawsari joined Villarreal, Fahad Al-Muwallad signed for Levante, while Leganes took Yahya Al-Shehri. All three had limited game time in the five months they were in La Liga but it is clear that Pizzi wants more of his players to follow their lead.
What is also not in doubt for the coach is the effort of the players. They started their campaign off well with a 4-0 thrashing of North Korea, followed up with a 2-0 victory over Lebanon, but were unable to maintain that form, going down 2-0 to Qatar before the Japan defeat.
“The players have not let me down throughout the entire Asian Cup, but we must not forget that we played against one of the best teams in Asia, with most of their players participating in the European leagues.
“We chose the best players who deserved to represent the team. I am satisfied with how they performed during the tournament and what they earnestly sought to apply in the games in terms of technical plans and strategies.”
Pizzi confirmed in the post-match press conference that his contract with the Saudi Federation has run out and there have been no discussions about the future.
The pain of the early exit was clear to see after the final whistle. (AFP)