Green Falcons ready to bear responsibility of a nation at Russia 2018

Saudi Arabia’s Osama Hawsawi duels for the ball with Germany’s Julian Draxler during the friendly between Germany and Saudi Arabia at the BayArena in Leverkusen. The eyes of the world will be on Juan Antonio Pizzi’s Saudi side when they play in the opening game of the 21st World Cup against Russia on Thursday. (AFP)
Updated 09 June 2018

Green Falcons ready to bear responsibility of a nation at Russia 2018

  • The Green Falcons finished their World Cup preparations, with a 2-1 reversal, against Germany on Friday night and now nerves will be starting to jangle ahead of the tournament curtain-raiser.
  • Saudi Arabia midfielder Hattan Bahebri: “First, our priority is not just to be part of the World Cup, but also to have good results and reach the round of 16 and more.”

LONDON: Saudi Arabia midfielder Hattan Bahebri said the enormity of being involved in the opening game of the World Cup is starting to sink in for the Green Falcons and revealed there is an inner belief in the squad to do more than just make up the numbers in Russia.
Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side launch the 21st World Cup against Russia on Thursday and, if the audience of 290 million for the opener in 2014 is anything to go by, they can expect the eyes of the world to be on them. The Green Falcons finished their World Cup preparations, with a 2-1 reversal, against Germany on Friday night and now nerves will be starting to jangle ahead of the tournament curtain-raiser.
“The closer we get to the first game, the bigger the responsibility,” Bahebri said in a video interview on the Saudi Football Federation’s Twitter account. “It is a huge event. It is the World Cup. It is a huge responsibility to me and my teammates. I hope we will fulfill the expectations of our fans.”
Saudi Arabia are the second lowest ranked side in the World Cup — Russia are the lowest at 70 — so expectations are low, but with Egypt not in great form and without Mohamed Salah for at least some of the group stage, there is a feeling the Green Falcons could seriously contend for the second spot in the group behind Uruguay.
“First, our priority is not just to be part of the World Cup, but also to have good results and reach the round of the 16 and more,” Bahebri said. “We are now focusing on our game with Russia, and we will work on winning it.”
The squad is heading to Russia without Nawaf Al-Abed, the Al-Hilal playmaker who scored five goals in qualifying, but who only managed to play 22 minutes under Pizzi because of injury. The Argentinian felt he could not take a chance on a player who has not started a game since Jan. 8 because of a groin injury.
“The coach takes the decisions and I guess Nawaf is injured and hopefully he will get better,” midfielder Hussain Al-Mogahwi said. “He sat with the coach and talked to him about everything. Nawaf is a hero, and the four others who were left out with him are also champions.”
Saudi Arabia will be nothing if not fully prepared for what Group A has to throw at them. They have played Italy, Peru and Germany — sides all ranked in the top 20 — in their last three friendlies and the nine matches they have played this year is more than any other side at the World Cup.
“The two friendly games with Peru and Italy will get us ready,” said Al-Mogahwi. “During the game with Italy, we weren’t focused and afraid, but all the players played well and we had a good game. We had many opportunities ... We could have tied the game if we had scored. During the game with Peru, the coach changed the squad and honestly, we were good, but luck was not on our side. We got a good experience from the friendly games. The games in the World Cup will have the same level.”


Juventus coach Sarri: Cristiano is in another class

Updated 20 January 2020

Juventus coach Sarri: Cristiano is in another class

  • The 38-year-old is the only player to have scored at least league 15 goals in each of the last 14 seasons

MILAN: Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to form has coincided with Juventus taking a firm grip on Serie A.

Ronaldo did not score at all in November, but he scored twice as Juventus beat Parma 2-1 on Sunday to take his tally to 11 in his last seven league matches.

The win also put Juventus on course for a record-extending ninth straight Serie A title as the Bianconeri moved four points above Inter Milan. They were two points behind the Nerazzurri a month and a half ago.

Ronaldo has struggled with injury this season and missed three Serie A matches, playing through pain in others.

The 38-year-old Portugal forward has nevertheless scored 16 goals in 17 matches, becoming the first Juventus player to have that many goals after 20 matches since Omar Sivori in 1960.

Ronaldo is also the only player to have scored at least 15 goals in one of Europe’s top five leagues in each of the last 14 seasons.

“Cristiano is in another class,” Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri said. “Sometimes he poses you a little bit of a problem but he will solve 100 others for you.”

While Juventus managed to grind out results in November when Ronaldo wasn’t scoring, Inter struggle when their top scorers are not on form.

There have been three matches since December where neither Romelu Lukaku nor Lautaro Martínez have managed to find the back of the net. All three ended in draws.

The latest was a surprise 1-1 result at relegation-threatened Lecce on Sunday.

That is also down to a general drop in pace in the team as, prior to that, Inter had managed to win the previous four matches where Lukaku and Martínez didn’t score.

“The final result stems from the fact that we’re a team that needs to go at 200 kph. We cannot afford to be off the pace,” Inter coach Antonio Conte said. “It’s evident that if we go at an average pace, if we go into cruise speed, we become a normal team and aren’t able to get a result.”

Substitute

Mario Balotelli’s match lasted only seven minutes on Sunday and he could now find himself with even less playing time in the coming weeks.

Balotelli came on as a substitute in the 74th minute of Brescia’s 2-2 draw against Cagliari but shortly afterward was shown a yellow card for a high tackle and then immediately shown a second after repeatedly swearing at the referee.

Depending on what referee Antonio Giua writes in his report, Balotelli could be suspended for several matches.

The forward will certainly miss Brescia’s next match, against former team AC Milan.

“I think the yellow card was too harsh. Mario didn’t feel it was right, and his protests didn’t seem excessive to me,” Brescia coach Eugenio Corini said. “It’s a pity because he came on with the desire to make us win the match.”

Balotelli was banned for the first four matches of the Serie A season following a red card in his last match with Marseille last season.

“It’s incredible how one episode can always drastically change from too negative or too positive everyone’s opinion on the character or professionalism of a person,” Balotelli wrote on his Instagram story after the match. “I will continue with my daily work this time, too. It’s not a problem. You can continue to judge me as you wish.”