Juan Antonio Pizzi has revealed his cards and named the 23 men he will trust to try to steer Saudi Arabia to success at the World Cup. Here are the five things we have learned from the Argentine’s selections:
YASSER AL-SHAHRANI IS KEY: It may not be that brave these days to take two recognized strikers to a major tournament but three full-backs is something else. The bonus for Pizzi is that Al-Shahrani can play on either side, providing a two-in-one option that enables the boss to load the plane with 11 midfielders.
ONLY THE FITTEST SURVIVE: Only the fittest survive: Since Pizzi arrived in November, the Argentine has tried to ramp up the intensity. There is more energy, more pressing and more sweat on display. The omission of the talented but recently injured Nawaf Al-Abed illustrates that anyone who was not 100 percent was never going to get to Russia. If Saudi Arabia have any chance of getting out of the group then hard work and effort will be key. Any player whose fitness is in question can make themselves comfortable on the subs’ bench safe in the knowledge that is where they will most likely stay.
MIDFIELD IS WHERE THE ATTACKING INTENT WILL COME FROM: Saudi Arabia just do not have top-quality strikers. Mohammed Al-Sahlawi and Mohanad Aseri are unlikely to strike fear into opposition defenses. There is, however, plenty of attacking talent among the raft of midfielders named and it may well be that a version of a strikerless Green Falcons is spotted in Russia this summer.
NAWAF AL-ABED IS UNLUCKY: The Al-Hilal midfielder did so much to get the Green Falcons to their first World Cup since 2006 and if Bert van Marwijk was still in charge, he would likely be in the squad despite his injury woes. Pizzi knows the player less well. Had Al-Abed been fit a month earlier to take the pitch against Algeria or Greece then things may have been different, but coming in against a rampant Peru team, one full of energy and talent, was unfortunate for a player with almost zero game time under his belt. His creativity will be missed.
EXPERIENCE MATTERS: Take the recovering Al-Abed out of the equation and all those who missed the cut were players who were far from national team regulars. Assaf Al-Qarni in goal, defenders Saeed Al-Mowalad and Mohammed Jahfali and midfielder Mohammed Al-Kwikbi have barely 30 international appearances between them. Pizzihas gone with experience and with 80,000 hostile fans waiting in Moscow in the opening game, perhaps it will prove to be a wise decision.