DUBAI: Juan Antonio Pizzi has announced his 25-man squad for the first stage of Saudi Arabia’s preparations for the World Cup. The players will gather in Riyadh on Sunday for a one-week training camp where the Green Falcons manager will get to know his players.
The camp is the first step of a five-stage program announced by Pizzi earlier this month, designed to help the side hit top form by the time they kick-off their World Cup campaign on Jun. 14 against the hosts Russia.
Nine players from league leaders Al-Hilal were drafted into the squad, including a first call-up for 22-year old Mojahed Al-Mania. The young striker’s inclusion raised a few eyebrows as he has only completed 61 minutes in the league for Al-Hilal this season. Al-Mania was also part of the Saudi Arabia U23 squad that finished bottom of their group at the AFC U23 Championship earlier this month.
Discussing this stage of preparations, Pizzi had indicated in an earlier press conference, that the squad will be largely drawn from the players who got the Green Falcons to the Russian showpiece. Indeed, 22 out of the 25 players called up on Saturday had featured at some point during the qualifying campaign. The exceptions being Al-Munia, goalkeeper Waleed Abdullah, who was the third-choice goalkeeper throughout the qualifiers, in addition to Al-Hilal midfielder Mohamed Kanno.
Pizzi, however, had insisted that this initial squad, his first since taking over since replacing Edgardo Bauza at the helm in November, is by no means the one most likely to travel to Moscow next summer.
“The first stage is important, but this doesn’t mean that only players who were involved at this stage will be considered for the World Cup. No, players from the Gulf Cup squad and the U23 Asian Championships are also under consideration,” said the 49-year-old.
The team will not play any friendly matches during the seven days gathering. Instead, the focus will be on explaining the manager’s style and laying the groundwork for the remainder of the preparations period.
“The main objective of this stage is for myself and the coaching staff to know the players and for them to understand our style of work and our plans,” continued the former Chile boss.
“We don’t have a lot of time, so it is crucial that we all get to know and understand each other well.”
Elsewhere in the squad, there was a return to the national team set up for Al-Nassr striker Mohamed Al-Sahlawi, who had found himself out of favor with the previous manager after a lean spell in the league, despite being Saudi Arabia’s top goal scorer in the World Cup qualifiers.
Notable absences include Al-Hilal playmaker Nawaf Al-Abed who continues to recover from surgery in France following a groin injury sustained earlier this season. His club teammate Mohamed Al-Burayk misses out, despite establishing himself as one of the best right-backs in the country, and there was a similar surprise exclusion of left-back Abdulrahman Al-Obaid who has just completed a big money transfer from Al-Qadisiyah to Al-Nassr.
SAUD ARABIA SQUAD
GOALKEEPERS: Abdullah Al-Mayouf (Al-Hilal), Waleed Abdullah (Al-Nassr), Yaser Al-Mosaileem and Mohamed Al-Owais (Al-Ahli).
DEFENDERS: Osama Hawsawi, Abdullah Al Zori and Yasir Al-Shahrani (Al-Hilal); Motaz Hawsawi, Mohamed Al-Fateel and Mansour Al-Harbi (Al-Ahli); Omar Hawsawi (Al-Nassr) and Hassan Muath (Al-Fayha).
MIDFIELDERS: Salman Al-Faraj, Abdullah Otayf, Mohammed Kanno and Salem Al-Dawsari (Al-Hilal); Abdulaziz Al-Jibreen and Yahya Al-Shehri (Al-Nassr); Hussain Al-Moqahwi, Salman Al-Moasher and Abdulfattah Assiri (Al-Ahli); Abdulmajeed Al Ruwaili (Al-Fayha) and Fahad Al-Muwallad (Al-Ittihad)
FORWARDS: Mohamed Al-Sahlawi (Al-Nassr) and Mujahid Al-Munia (Al-Hilal)