Greece boss Michael Skibbe predicts World Cup woe for Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia defender Yasser Al-Shahrani fights for the ball with Greece's Dimitrios Limnios.
Updated 17 May 2018

Greece boss Michael Skibbe predicts World Cup woe for Saudi Arabia

  • Greece coach admitted Green Falcons were the better side in 2-0 defeat on Tuesday.
  • However Skibbe was not surprised about the lack of chances Pizzi's men failed to create.

SEVILLE: Greece coach Michael Skibbe believes Saudi Arabia are not good enough to progress to the knock-out stages of next month’s World Cup, despite the Green Falcons having beaten his side in a friendly earlier this week.
Saudi Arabia defeated Skibbe’s Greece 2-0 in Seville on Tuesday as their preparations for this summer’s football showpiece continue. Juan Antonio Pizzi’s men will face Russia in the tournament’s opening match on June 14, before then playing against Uruguay and Egypt for a place in the second round. Skibbe’s side, in contrast, failed to qualify for the World Cup after losing a European playoff to Croatia last November.
With the Saudi Arabia friendly not falling on an official FIFA match-day, Skibbe was forced to field an experimental team free of overseas players. Nonetheless, they held their own for much of the opening exchanges. Even after allowing Salem Al-Dawsari to open the scoring midway through the first half, Anastasios Bakasetas almost drew them level with a free kick that hit the post.
Greece’s task, however, was made more difficult when defender Dimitrios Giannoulis was sent off just before halftime. Saudi Arabia asserted authority with an extra player and Mohammed Kanoo scored the side’s second 11 minutes from time, but even then the goal came just moments after Efthimios Koulouris had rattled the upright once again, against the run of play.
“Saudi Arabia showed they are in a better shape than we are,” Skibbe told Arab News.
“They are obviously working toward the World Cup, which starts in only a few weeks, while a lot of my players came here after a one-week break — because the Greek season finished last week. All our players from abroad were missing, too, as they were playing with their clubs, so it is quite difficult to gauge levels.
“But Saudi Arabia did well and were the better team. They were excellent with the ball, showed good technique and are a little bit fitter than my team. That said, I think we were unlucky with the red card and hitting the post twice. It was possible that we could have gotten a different result, but Saudi Arabia won because they were better overall. They deserved it.”
In March, Greece defeated Egypt 1-0 in a friendly, so 52-year-old Skibbe is well-placed to draw comparisons between the two Group A rivals. And despite the results of the two games, the former German national team assistant favors the North Africans.
“I think the Egyptian team is better and has faster players,” Skibbe said. “(Mohamed) Salah is in an unbelievable moment right now, doing excellent with Liverpool, so I think Egypt is better. It will not be easy for Saudi Arabia to be competitive in the tournament because there are a lot of good teams that will star there. For this reason, at this moment, I can’t see them progressing from their group.”
While Skibbe’s comments may seem pragmatic given Salah has scored 44 goals in all competitions for club and country this season, he was more blunt in his assessment of Saudi Arabia’s inability to capitalize on their numerical advantage after the break. Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side played against 10 men for 45 minutes, yet while they finished the match with 63 percent possession they managed only two shots on target, one fewer than their opponents.
Asked whether he was surprised Saudi Arabia failed to test his goalkeeper more given their dominance in possession, Skibbe was frank with his response. “Not really, no,” he said. “Even in the first half, we made mistakes with our passing, which afforded them some chances but they didn’t take them. So, no, I think it was not too surprising.”


Al-Nassr on target for first Asian crown

Updated 28 September 2020

Al-Nassr on target for first Asian crown

  • The Riyadh giants defeated compatriots Al-Taawoun 1-0 on Sunday in the second round to be rewarded with another all-Saudi clash in the quarter-final
  • Now only Al-Ahli, who finished third in the SPL season, a full 14 points behind Al-Nassr, stand between Rui Vitoria’s men and a place in the last four

RIYADH: Al-Nassr may have missed out on the 2020 Saudi Pro League (SPL) title but they are now regarded as favorites to win a first continental crown after rivals Al-Hilal and Al-Sadd both fell by the wayside in the AFC Champions League.

The Riyadh giants defeated compatriots Al-Taawoun 1-0 on Sunday in the second round to be rewarded with another all-Saudi clash in the quarter-final. Now only Al-Ahli, who finished third in the SPL season, a full 14 points behind Al-Nassr, stand between Rui Vitoria’s men and a place in the last four.

“When you get to this stage of a major competition like this then you don’t mind who you play as every team is a strong one,” the Portuguese coach said.

“The game against Al-Taawoun was tough and the game against Al-Ahli will be tough. We will have to be at our best.”

Al-Nassr are looking strong at both ends of the field. Moroccan goal-machine Abderrazak Hamdallah finally broke the deadlock on Sunday evening with 15 minutes remaining, firing home a low shot from close range.

The striker, who won the 2019 SPL golden boot while propelling Al-Nassr to the title, has now equaled the tournament record set by Shanghai SIPG’s Hulk, of scoring in nine consecutive Champions League appearances.

“We know that if he gets a chance then he will score. Whether the chance comes in the first or last minute, it doesn’t matter but, of course, this is a team effort,” added Vitoria.

As clinical as Al-Nassr are in front of goal, they are solid at the back, conceding just two goals in the five games that have taken place since the tournament restarted in mid-September.

Both Al-Nassr and Al-Ahli won their respective groups but the Jeddah club did not look as convincing as their Riyadh rivals, losing two of the four games they had to play after Al-Wahda of Abu Dhabi had to withdraw over positive test results at the club for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The second-round win over Shabab Al-Ahli was as tight as could be as the Saudi team triumphed in a penalty shootout over the Dubai club after the game had finished 1-1.

“We had no preference as to whether we would play Al-Nassr or Al-Taawoun,” said Al-Ahli coach Vladan Milojevic on Monday. “It is exciting to play another team from the same country in the quarter-final. We know each other well and it will be good for the fans too. Any team at this stage is strong.”

Should Al-Nassr progress, the semi-final should hold no fears. Defending Asian champions Al-Hilal were regarded as the favorites from the West Zone (the tournament is divided into two geographic halves until the final) but after topping their group, the title-holders were forced to withdraw by the Asian Football Confederation last Wednesday after the squad was hit by a COVID-19 outbreak.

While much of Asia sympathized with Al-Hilal, the absence of the current Asian and Saudi Arabian champions will not be mourned too much at Al-Nassr.

On Sunday, another strong favorite was eliminated. Al-Sadd of Qatar are coached by former Barcelona and Spain legend Xavi and boast former Arsenal striker Santi Cazorla, South Korean internationals Nam Tae-hee and Jung Woo-yung and a number of Qatar’s 2019 Asian Cup-winning squad in their ranks. The 2011 champions, who finished just behind Al-Nassr in the group stage, were expected to go far.

Instead, they lost 1-0 to Persepolis. The Iranians will take on Pakhtakor of Uzbekistan, who defeated Esteghlal 2-1, another team from Tehran, in the other quarter final. Both teams have plenty of Asian experience and knowhow but neither have the star power of Al-Hilal and Al-Sadd.

Should Al-Nassr get to the final then they will face what could be a very tired East Asian opponent. The group stage resumes in mid-November on the opposite side of the continent and that means teams from Japan, China, Australia, or South Korea would arrive for the final after playing as many as nine games in the space on the back of domestic commitments.

The route to a first Asian crown for Al-Nassr is looking clearer than it has ever done though Al-Ahli will have something to say about that on Wednesday.