Saudi Arabia’s new coach Pizzi looking for team to make good start in Russia

Juan Antonio Pizzi claims the Green Falcons’ World Cup group is very balanced. (AP)
Updated 03 December 2017

Saudi Arabia’s new coach Pizzi looking for team to make good start in Russia

MOSCOW: For Saudi Arabia’s national football team, next summer’s Eid Al-Fitr will be unlike any that has ever come before. On Jun. 14, while hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world are gathering to mark the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan, the Kingdom’s Green Falcons will be contesting the opening game of the World Cup in Moscow.
Having qualified for the global showpiece for the first time since 2006, Saudi Arabia were drawn in Group A alongside hosts Russia, South American heavyweights Uruguay and Arab counterparts Egypt. They will feature in the first match of the tournament at the revamped 81,000-seat Luzhniki Stadium. 
Russia are the lowest-ranked team in the competition at 65th in the world and Saudi Arabia are marginally higher at 63rd, so while the hosts could not have dreamt of a more willing opponent in which to raise the curtain, it is not necessarily the glamor tie that Brazil would have been. The Green Falcons’ Argentinian coach Juan Antonio Pizzi admitted as much, adding the opportunity to play in the opening game against the host nation can be seen as both a blessing and a curse. 
“I think everyone came here with uncertainty and excitement regarding seeing which group each country will be in,” the Argentine said on the sidelines of the draw inside the Kremlin Palace.
“We’re involved in the opening game and, well, it will be difficult. Playing against the hosts, there are always a lot of nerves — opening games are always like that — but for anyone it’s always something you hope for.”
Pizzi has yet to meet his players, having been hired less than a week ago following the dismissal of his compatriot Edgardo Bauza after only two official friendly matches. He arrives in the Kingdom, however, with an impressive track record, including leading Chile to victory at last year’s Copa América Centenario. 
“It’s a very balanced group,” he added. “We know it is important to get off to a good start in the early stages. We hope we can prepare well and compete against the best. Nowadays all the information is available and that is very important for coaches, so we’re going to come up with the best plan we can in order to compete.”
In that sense, Pizzi may have an advantage over his opponents: Nobody knows how he will set up his new side.
“We don’t know much about the Saudi Arabia team, but it must be a disciplined and stubborn team,” said Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko.
While Pizzi repeatedly spoke of “competing,” Adel Ezzat, president of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, has higher hopes than merely putting up a fight. He told Egyptian sports website that he expects Pizzi to deliver victories and lead the Green Falcons to the knockout stages.
“We are extremely happy that we are in the same group as Egypt,” Ezzat said. “Egypt and Saudi Arabia are sisterly nations; football and many other things are common between us. I hoped this would be the outcome and I expect that both countries will join each other in the last 16.”
With Egypt being led by Héctor Cúper, both nations have Argentinian managers and Uruguay coach Celso Otero knows he is likely to have more revision to do than his opponents. “They’ll know us inside out whereas we’ll have to familiarize ourselves with the way they’re likely to play,” said Otero. “But what team is easy
these days?”

Manchester United and City seek derby delight

Updated 06 December 2019

Manchester United and City seek derby delight

  • Liverpool travel to Bournemouth aiming to surge further clear at the top of the points chart

LONDON: Both sides of the Manchester divide will be hoping some derby delight can add impetus to disappointing seasons when City host United on Saturday, while Liverpool travel to Bournemouth aiming to surge further clear at the top of the Premier League.

Manchester United got a badly needed win for manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Wednesday, inflicting a first defeat on Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho as the Portuguese returned to Old Trafford.

The Red Devils were again reliant on Marcus Rashford goals as the England forward struck twice to take his tally to 12 in 13 games for club and country.

“He was strong, direct, taking people on, inside and outside with no fear,” said Solskjaer. “That’s what we want — we want to see boys enjoying themselves.”

There has been precious little for United fans to enjoy this season, but just a fifth Premier League victory in 15 games was enough to lift them up to sixth.

That is still 11 points adrift of third-placed City, despite their own struggles at times.

Pep Guardiola’s men looked more like their old selves in thrashing Burnley 4-1 on Tuesday with Gabriel Jesus stepping up in the absence of the injured Sergio Aguero to score twice.

City have lost just one of six league meetings with United since Guardiola took charge three years ago and cannot afford to slip up if they are to maintain any aspirations of catching Liverpool in the title race. The English champions could kick off at the Etihad 14 points behind the leaders, should Jurgen Klopp’s men continue their scintillating form at Bournemouth earlier on Saturday.

“For the distance we are behind Liverpool it would be crazy to think about the title, we have to think about the derby,” said Guardiola.

Klopp could even afford the luxury of leaving Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah on the bench for a 5-2 thrashing of Everton in the Merseyside derby in midweek.

Both are expected to return for the visit to the south coast, but Klopp may rest some of his stars who did start against Everton ahead of a huge week for the European champions.

Liverpool travel to Salzburg in the Champions League on Tuesday needing to avoid defeat if their defense of the title is not to embarrassingly end in the group stages.

Divock Origi scored twice against Everton and Xherdan Shaqiri struck on his first start of the season to prove Klopp does have the strength in depth to successfully shuffle his pack.

“It’s easy for me to tell them often, very often, how good they are but if they then don’t play it’s not too easy for them to always understand what I say,” said Klopp.

“But if they play and deliver like they did, it’s a very, very important sign for the whole squad.”

Leicester remain Liverpool’s closest challengers, eight points back in second, thanks to a run of eight straight wins in all competitions.

“The team is developing and are proving they have a winning mentality and mindset,” said Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers, who has dismissed speculation linking him with the vacant managerial role at Arsenal.

Next up for the in-form Foxes is a trip to Aston Villa on Sunday.

Villa are one of a host of teams hauled back into the battle to avoid relegation by Southampton’s resurgence with Dean Smith’s men just one point above the drop zone.