Saudi Arabia need to kick on and ‘win the Asian Cup’, says coach Pizzi

Saudi Arabia's players celebrate winning the match with Egypt at the Volgograd Arena. (AFP)
Updated 26 June 2018

Saudi Arabia need to kick on and ‘win the Asian Cup’, says coach Pizzi

  • Win over Egypt has given football in the Kingdom a shot in the arm
  • 'We will focus on the Asian Cup,' says the coach

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s history-making players have been challenged to build on the morale-boosting World Cup over Egypt and launch a bid to win the Asian Cup.
The Green Falcons ended a run of 12 World Cup games without a win by beating their Arab rivals in Volgograd, Salem Al-Dawsari’s late goal securing the first win at the finals since they beat Belgium in Washington in 1994. It was also only the third time in 12 finals games that they had managed to score.
The result meant the Green Falcons can head home from Russia having finished in third place and with a degree of confidence and satisfaction, a scenario that looked highly unlikely when they were trounced by Russia in the opening game.
They will now be among the favorites for next year’s Asian Cup and will fancy their chances of winning it for the first time since 1996. They have been drawn in a group with Qatar, Lebanon and North Korea.
“We will focus on the Asian Cup and I am absolutely convinced, 100 percent sure, that we will continue to improve in the next six months and that we will be able to compete at the highest level and go there to win the cup,” said coach Juan Antonio Pizzi.
Whether Pizzi remains in charge remains to be seen. The length of his contract was not revealed when he was appointed as manager in November and he looked on borrowed time after the disastrous opening game of the tournament, but he may have bought himself some time with this win over Egypt.

The way the team came from behind to win bodes well and suggests they are playing for their coach and receptive to his tactical approach. It would have been easy to roll over with nothing at stake in this dead rubber of a game. The way the players embraced each other and Pizzi on the pitch at full-time suggested this win meant more than just three World Cup points. It felt like a launchpad.
“We need to keep working, we need to be patient, we need to support the team,” said Pizzi. “Nothing can be achieved from one day to another, everything takes time.”


Mind games begin ahead of the return to Saudi football as Hilal boss Lucescu challenges Nassr coach

Updated 03 August 2020

Mind games begin ahead of the return to Saudi football as Hilal boss Lucescu challenges Nassr coach

  • Victory in this Riyadh Derby will take the three-time Asian champions nine points clear of Al Nassr with just seven games remaining
  • There has been good and bad news for Al Nassr as Brazilian centre-back Maicon Pereira has arrived in Riyadh from Galatasaray and has been cleared to play

DUBAI: There may have been no football in Saudi Arabia for five months but the mind games are in full flow as ahead of the crucial top of the table clash in the Saudi Pro League on Wednesday, Al Hilal boss Razvan Lucescu has told Al Nassr coach Rui Vitoria that the pressure is all on him.

In the first game since March when the season was suspended due to coronavirus, Al Nassr in second, six points behind the leaders with eight games to play, can’t afford any slip-ups in the Riyadh Derby if they are to successfully defend the title they won last season.

“We are six points ahead and the opponent is under more pressure as they know they have to reduce the difference,” Lucescu told reporters at the pre-match press conference to the eagerly-awaited Riyadh Derby that will take place with no fans in the King Fahd International Stadium.

That points gap means that the smart money is still on Al Hilal to take league title number 16. Victory in this Riyadh Derby will take the three-time Asian champions nine points clear of Al Nassr with just seven games remaining.

Not only that but Al Hilal have looked to be in better shape than their challengers in recent warm-up games with a 2-2 draw with second tier side Al-Shoalah following a 4-0 win over Al Riyadh.

“We have been looking forward to this game for a long time,”  Lucescu, who took Al Hilal to the AFC Champions League title in 2019, added. “The league suspension has been long and it has not been easy but we have focused on the mental side of things and aim to return strongly.”

The Romanian has been boosted by the return to fitness of Brazilian star Carlos Eduardo who has recovered from last week’s knock. With the league’s leading goalscorer Bafetimbi Gomis signing a contract extension in July, Lucescu is in a positive frame of mind.

“We know the way they play and we know that it will be a tough game …but everyone is affected by the long pause and we all start at the same level. We are just going to take it step by step and stay focused.”

There has been good and bad news for Al Nassr as Brazilian centre-back Maicon Pereira has arrived in Riyadh from Galatasaray and has been cleared to play. The former Porto star will be needed as fellow defenders Omar Hawsawi and Abdullah Madu could miss out through injury.

While Hilal may have the points gap, in terms of the personal battles between the two coaches, Vitoria has the upper hand. The Portuguese boss has yet to lose in three meetings with his Romanian rival in big games in Europe as well as Saudi Arabia.

In a final play-off to reach the group stage of the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League, Vitoria led Benfica to a 5-2 aggregate victory over PAOK, coached by Lucescu. After a 1-1 draw in Lisbon, the Portuguese powerhouse won 4-1 in Greece.

Earlier this season, Al Nassr inflicted Al Hilal’s only loss in the league this season so far with a 2-1 win at Hilal’s King Saud International Stadium in October with Moroccan forward Abderrazak Hamdallah getting both goals.

A similar result at Al Nassr’s home on Wednesday would breathe new life into the title race. Vitoria has stressed that recent friendly games were a chance to try out tactics and give players a run-out. Losses against Al Raed and Al Fateh however have given the Portuguese boss much to think about.

At the other end of the table.  Al Ittihad are just three places of the bottom of this 16-team league and in danger of the drop. The two-time AFC Champions League winners face a game on Tuesday at mid-table Abha where victory would provide the Jeddah giants with some much-needed breathing space.

The race for third and a place in the 2021 AFC Champions League is also a fierce one. Al Wehda are currently in the driving seat and host Al Shabab while Al Ahli in fourth and just two points behind host the struggling Al Hazem. Al Faisaly, Al-Taawon and Al Raed also have an outside chance of booking a place in next year’s continental competition.

All eyes will, however, be on the top of the table clash as Hilal can take a huge step towards the title. “I am happy with how the players have returned from the suspension and I am confident in  their abilities,”said Lucescu. “All we care about is winning the next match and that will help us win the league.”