Pizzi lands Saudi Arabia top job

Juan Antonio Pizzi shakes hands with Saudi Arabia Football Federation President Adel Ezzat. (SAFF)
Updated 29 November 2017

Pizzi lands Saudi Arabia top job

DUBAI: Juan Antonio Pizzi is the man chosen to lead the Saudi Arabia national team to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
A statement released by the Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF) on Twitter yesterday announced that an agreement has been reached for Pizzi to replace fellow Argentine Edgardo Bauza in the Green Falcons hotseat.
The agreement, which comes six days after previous coach Edgardo Bauza was fired, was signed in Tokyo, where an SAFF delegation was attending the AFC Champions League final second leg, which Al-Hilal lost to Urawa Red Diamonds on Saturday.
Pizzi’s name was selected out of a shortlist of coaches that reportedly included the likes of Vicente del Bosque, the former Spain coach. Reports in the Netherlands indicated that former boss Bert van Marwijk was also one of those approached by the SAFF.
Adel Ezzat, President of the SAFF, described the new coach as “experienced and highly ambitious.” Ezzat vowed to provide all necessary support to Pizzi as he prepares the team for the World Cup finals.
The announcement did not mention the length of Pizzi’s contract, leaving question marks about whether his role will extend to leading the national team at the 2019 Asian Cup in the UAE, where Saudi Arabia is targeting at least an appearance in the final on the same ground where they won the trophy in 1996.
The 49-year-old becomes the fourth Argentinian to manage Saudi Arabia after Jorge Solari, Gabriel Calderon and Bauza. Solari was the man who lead the team to the second round of the 1994 World Cup, and Calderon won them qualification to Germany 2006 before making way for Marcos Paqueta to lead the team in the finals.
Pizzi becomes the 13th managerial appointment for the post in the past decade, making the post one of the hottest seats in world football. Van Marwijk was the only coach to last more than two years in the job since Khalil Al Zayani in the mid-1980s. Van Marwijk led Saudi to World Cup qualification but left the job in September after his contract expired and he failed to reach an agreement with the SAFF on renewal terms.
Argentina-born Pizzi arrives with a rich playing and coaching pedigree. He spent most of his playing career in Spain where he turned out for La Liga sides Valencia and Barcelona. He also represented Spain in the 1998 World Cup and managed a host of clubs in Argentina, including San Lorenzo and Rosario Central in addition to Spain’s Valencia. Most recently, Pizzi was in charge of the Chile national team, leading them to 2016 Copa America glory. His stint in charge of La Roja ended last month after they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, finishing sixth in the South American qualifiers.
He now gets the chance to go to the finals with the Green Falcons. His primary objective will be to lead the country to the round of 16, a feat Saudi Arabia failed to repeat since their impressive debut on the global stage in USA 1994 when they finished second in their group before being knocked out by Sweden in the round of 16. Since then, the Falcons exited at the group stage in 1998, 2002 and 2006.
Pizzi and the SAFF delegation will fly to Moscow later this week where they will learn their three World Cup group-stage opponents on Friday when the 2018 World Cup draw takes place. Among the 32 nations competing in Russia next summer, only the host country is ranked lower than Saudi Arabia, which means the Falcons are seeded in Pot Four alongside Japan, South Korea and Australia.


Woods ready for leap into unknown at fan-free major

Updated 06 August 2020

Woods ready for leap into unknown at fan-free major

  • Woods experienced new fan-less reality at the Memorial Tournament last month

SAN FRANCISCO: Tiger Woods is preparing for a journey into the unknown as he heads into this week's PGA Championship hunting for a 16th major championship against the surreal backdrop of a deserted course at TPC Harding Park.

Throughout his career, the 44-year-old former world No. 1 has become accustomed to roaring galleries following his every shot, providing a jolt of energy that Woods has fed off time and again.

Yet this week's PGA Championship in San Francisco will be different.

Restrictions imposed due to COVID-19 mean that the first major of 2020 will be a fan-free, muted affair.

Woods got an early taste of his changed environment on Tuesday during a media briefing. Where in the past a scrum of reporters would have attended, on Tuesday only a handful of journalists were present.

"Well, that's an unknown," Woods said when asked about how the absence of fans might affect his chances.

"I don't know if anyone in our generation has ever played without fans in a major championship. It's going to be very different.

"But it's still a major championship. It's still the best players in the world. We all understand that going into it, so there's going to be plenty of energy from the competitive side.

"But as far as the energy outside the ropes, that is an unknown. And hopefully I can put myself in a position where I can be in that position where I can feel what it feels like to have no fans and also coming down the stretch with a chance to win."

Woods' former caddie, New Zealander Steve Williams, is among those who believe that the lack of fans might prove to be a hindrance.

"With that element missing, for someone who hasn't played a lot of tournament golf this year, it'll be challenging for Tiger to find that spark he needs," Williams said this week.

Woods experienced new fan-less reality at the Memorial Tournament last month, at Muirfield Village, in Dublin, Ohio. He finished tied for 40th.

"Those four days at Muirfield were a bit different," Woods said.

"It reminded me of sometimes on the weekend, you'd tee off Saturday morning and you'd just barely make the cut and you're first off and there's no one out there.

"But generally by the time you make the back nine, there's thousands of people out there on the golf course waiting for the leaders to tee off.”

"But that never happened. So that's the new world we live in. We just have to get used to it."

Woods, meanwhile, has one eye on this week's weather forecast in San Francisco, with the former world No. 1's lower back notoriously vulnerable to the cooler temperatures expected.

"When it's cooler like this, it's just making sure that my core stays warm, layering up properly," said Woods.

"I know I won't have the same range of motion as I would back home in Florida where it's 95 every day. That's just the way it is."

Woods, who underwent spinal fusion surgery to rescue his career, said he had spent most of his downtime during the pandemic practising at home.

"I feel good," he said. "Obviously I haven't played much competitively, but I've been playing a lot at home.

"Just trying to get my way back into this part of the season. This is what I've been gearing up for. We've got a lot of big events starting from here, so looking forward to it. This is going to be a fun test for all of us."