Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi's contract extended until end of Asian Cup

Juan Antonio Pizzi will lead Saudi Arabia at the Asian Cup. (AFP)
Updated 26 June 2018

Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi's contract extended until end of Asian Cup

  • Coach rewarded for win over Egypt
  • Pizzi bounces back from losing to Russia to earn new deal

LONDON: Juan Antonio Pizzi has been rewarded for choreographing Saudi Arabia's first World Cup win in 24 years with a contract extension, the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) has announced.

Recruited in November to replace Edgardo Bauza, Pizzi was only contracted to the federation until the end of the World Cup and his hopes of staying on beyond the tournament in Russia looked slim when Saudi Arabia slumped to a 5-0 defeat to the hosts on the opening night, causing much embarrassment and soul-searching for the federation. Federation president Adel Ezzat called the performance “totally unsatisfactory”, General Sports Authority chief Turki Al-Sheikh labelled the effort “a total fiasco" while SAFF vice president Nawaf Al-Temyat said the buck stops with Pizzi, saying "the coach is technically responsible for the loss of our team."

There was even talk of Saudi Arabia changing coaches mid-tournament, like they did in 1998 when World Cup-winning coach Alberto Parreira was fired. But Pizzi enjoyed a stay of execution at the hands of a federation who have made ten changes in as many years and managed to stop the rot against Uruguay, losing only 1-0 to a side ranked 14 in the world. The Argentine has been around long enough to know he needed a positive result against Egypt to keep his job and his team delivered, coming from behind to beat Egypt 2-1 on Monday. Their first World Cup win since they beat Belgium in 1994 meant they finished the tournament in third place in Group A and could return to the Kingdom with their heads held high.

Federation chiefs Ezzat and Al-Temyat were with the team throughout their stay in Russia and they clearly saw enough against Egypt and in training to believe that Pizzi is the man to lead them at the Asian Cup next year and they have handed him an extension. Pizzi hinted after the game that the Green Falcons camp was a harminous one and that they have been receptive to his methods, getting better as the tournament went on.

"I’d like to reiterate that I and the whole staff is really, really happy with the players and the way they have responded together with the response we have had from the association," he said.

Pizzi has won four of his 12 games in charge but he will be expected to improve that win ratio at the Asian Cup in the UAE. Bidding to win the tournament for the first time since 1996, Saudi Arabia are one of the favorites and have been drawn in a group along with Qatar, Lebanon and North Korea.

"Now we will focus on the Asian Cup and I am 100 percent convinced that we will continue to improve over the next six months," Pizzi said.

Pizzi's results:

Beat Moldova 3-0

Lost to Iraq 4-1

Drew with Ukraine 1-1

Lost to Belgium 4-0

Beat Algeria 2-0

Beat Greece 2-0

Lost to Italy 2-1

Lost to Peru 3-0

Lost to Germany 2-1

Lost to Russia 5-0

Lost to Uruguay 1-0

Beat Egypt 2-0

Total record: P12 W4 D1 L7 GF13 GA23


‘Fight Island’ concept debuts in Abu Dhabi on Sunday

Updated 11 July 2020

‘Fight Island’ concept debuts in Abu Dhabi on Sunday

  • Plan to be unveiled on Sunday with the staging of the 13-fight UFC 251 event on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island

DUBAI: When mixed martial arts supremo Dana White first floated his “Fight Island” concept, with its echoes of the Bruce Lee blockbuster “Enter the Dragon” where fighters were drawn into combat at a private getaway, eyebrows were raised.

“‘Fight Island’ is real. It’s a real thing,” said the Ultimate Fighting Championship boss when he announced the plan in April. “The infrastructure’s being built right now, and that’s really going to happen.”

White’s vision will be unveiled on Sunday with the staging of the 13-fight UFC 251 event on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island.

The event will be headlined by a welterweight world title encounter between the Nigerian-American champion Kamaru Usman and Cuban-American challenger Jorge Masvidal.

It’s one of four “Fight Island” cards to be staged without an audience inside an arena on the resort and entertainment island throughout July, kicking off with three world title bouts and a title challenge eliminator.

Usman said during a virtual media event that he had been impressed by what he’d seen since arriving in the UAE on Thursday.

“I’m grateful for everything that’s been done,” said Usman, gunning for the second defense of his title. “All the precautions have been taken. After I go out there on Saturday and get my hand raised I’ll be glad to be heading home COVID-free.”

The UFC has made the move to Abu Dhabi from its Las Vegas base in an effort to isolate its fighters during the coronavirus pandemic.

Safety has been a major motivator, as has the promoter’s need to keep staging events — and collecting revenue — during a crisis that has shut down or forced massive overhauls to the staging of the world’s major sporting events.

Strict lockdown measures have been imposed on athletes, their entourages, officials, staff and media for the duration of their stay on Yas Island, on a site that has been completely sealed off until the event concludes on July 26.

Tests were taken before people arrived — initial headliner Gilbert Burns of Brazil failed, and stayed home, Masvidal’s coach Mike Brown suffered the same fate — and after landing there has been more testing, and 48 hours in-room quarantine.

“We were able to lock away with some mats and pads in our room and keep training as much as we could,” said Russian welterweight Muslim Salikhov, who fights Brazil’s Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos in Sunday’s preliminaries.

“The main thing everyone is saying is that we are here, and we are ready to fight because that’s what we do for a living.”

Abu Dhabi’s executive director of tourism and marketing, Ali Al-Shaiba, said protocols were stringent in the expansive “safe zone,” patrolled by police and expected to house around 2,000 people for the duration of the month-long event. Staff will be tested every 72 hours.