DUBAI: Saudi Arabia will play high-profile friendlies against world champions Germany and Belgium — with a game against Italy also on the cards — in a bid to reach this summer’s World Cup in peak condition and give themselves the best chance of doing “its people proud.”
Head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi announced on Wednesday that the Green Falcons will play Iraq (Feb. 27), Ukraine (Mar. 23), Belgium (Mar. 28), Peru (Jun. 3) and Germany (Jun. 8) in an extensive list of friendly matches in preparation for the World Cup opener with Russia on Jun. 16. The Saudi Football Federation is also putting the finishing touches to a glamor game with Italy on May 28.
“We want to work hard to do Saudi Arabia and its people proud,” said Pizzi.
“We designed this schedule to help us reach top form in time for the World Cup. The match against Iraq is important, because Iraq are playing at home and many fans will attend, so there will be a lot of pressure on us. They also play a fairly similar style to Egypt. Ukraine and Belgium are very strong teams, especially Belgium who are one of the World Cup candidates. The final stage will see us facing Germany, the world’s best team right now. We also chose two of the best teams in the world, the first is Italy who will not play in the World Cup, but are a great team, and the second are Peru who have impressed in the CONMEBOL qualifiers and return to the World Cup after a long time.”
Pizzi is yet to take charge of a match since he replaced Edgardo Bauza and turned down the chance to lead the Green Falcons at the Gulf Cup in Kuwait, opting instead to plan for Russia with SAFF President Adel Ezzat and run the rule over players in domestic matches. He will formally meet the players for the first time in an extended squad training camp in Saudi Arabia on Jan. 21 he is referring to as “stage one.” There are five stages to Pizzi’s World Cup plan.
“Stage one is important because we don’t have a lot of time until the World Cup, so it’s crucial that we all get to know and understand each other well,” Pizzi said. “A large number of players will participate in stage one based on the squad that qualified to the World Cup in addition to those we have watched in the league. This doesn’t mean that only the players who were involved in stage 1 will be under consideration for the World Cup. Players from the Gulf Cup squad and those who will play in the U-23 Asian Championship are also under consideration. The most important thing about stage two is that we will face Iraq away. In this stage we will start testing and filtering out the players more aggressively.”
Stage three will take place in Spain in March and will witness friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium. The Green Falcons will return to Europe for another training camp at the end of April and will then base themselves on the continent for stage five from May 19 until their World Cup opener in Moscow.
"At the end, I’d like to say we are happy, proud of being at the finals and want to deliver achievement that make the Saudi people proud," said Pizzi. "In order to achieve our goals, we need everyone to help us and work towards the same goal, the media especially need to be behind us.”
Feb 27: Iraq (A)
Mar. 23: Ukraine (in Spain)
Mar. 28: Belgium (in Spain)
Apr. 9 (TBC)
May. 15 (TBC)
May 28 Italy (TBC)
June 3: Peru (venue TBC)
June 8: Germany (A)
Stage one: Jan. 21-27 in Saudi Arabia
Stage two: Feb. 21-27 in Saudi Arabia followed by a friendly in Iraq
Stage three: Mar 15-27 in Spain, including friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium
Stage four: End of April until May 15 in Spain
Stage five: May 19 to World Cup in Europe