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.”