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.

All systems go for Saudi International

Updated 29 January 2020

All systems go for Saudi International

  • Golf Saudi CEO says, ‘We’re really excited’; Johnson, Koepka upbeat

KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY: Golf Saudi CEO Majed Al-Sorour rolled out the welcome mat for 132 players — a much stronger field than last year’s lineup — who will vie for total prize money of $3.5 million in the Saudi International.

“We are pleased to have everybody here. The players, they come and enjoy our tournament,” Al-Sorour told a press conference on Tuesday ahead of this week’s second edition of the European Tour event at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club.

“We’re pretty excited. The championship, the Saudi International has been put on the world map, in the European Tour. We are really excited for the world ranking. Our field is really strong,” said Al-Sorour, who also discussed the Kingdom’s golf development program.

“Our main pillar out of the six pillars is mass participation. It’s inclusive. When we focus on mass participation, we did not stop at the development of the national team. We want to develop the full ecosystem of golf. Some of the jobs we are trying to create are the customer service and customer care, caddy master, agronomy and greenskeeping and the multiple different layers of getting into the field of agronomy and natural resources,” he said.

Also gracing the press conference on the second day of tournament week Tuesday were defending champion and world No.5 Dustin Johnson and world No.1 Brooks Koepka as well as the Saudi trio and local favorites professional Othman Almulla and amateurs Saud Alsharif and Faisal Salhab.

The US duo headlines one of the strongest lineups on the Middle East leg of the European Tour, including 10 major winners.

“I’m looking forward to a big year. I feel like the game is in pretty good form,” said Johnson.

“I’m really pleased with how I played last year here, I like the golf course and enjoyed myself. I’m excited to be back for this tournament. But because you won at a golf course, it doesn’t mean you’re going to win again. I’m going to have to work for it this week.”

Koepka is returning to the Kingdom after another successful season that saw him win a fourth major crown.

The 29-year-old is continuing his return to competition following a knee injury that kept him out of action at the end of last season.

“I had three months off, so there was no point in having a holiday. It was more of a work thing in my off-season to get my game ready. It felt good in Abu Dhabi, it felt good in Dubai and it now feels good here,” said Koepka.

Both players believe the 7,010-yard par 70 Royal Greens & Country Club layout facing the players this week has made major advances.

“It looks in incredible shape just as it was last year. Any time you can give a course an extra year to develop, you’re going to see progression,” added Koepka.

“The greens are a lot faster. The rough’s a lot thicker. It’s settled in nicely.”

The course stretches along the spectacular Red Sea coastline, giving Dustin Johnson a chance to indulge another sporting passion before his practice round this morning — scuba diving.

“I had no idea you could do that in Saudi Arabia. Last year, I met a friend who lived here and took us out on a scuba dive, so that was something I was looking forward to doing again.”

For the Saudi trio, the tournament, which also features US stars Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed as well as European heavyweights Sergio Garcia, Shane Lowry, Henrik Stenson and Lee Westwood, will be one of the most challenging weeks of their sporting lives.

They all looked confident while focusing on the positives as they prepare for the blue- ribbon event.