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


Record-breaking Lukaku propelling Inter’s European dream

Updated 12 August 2020

Record-breaking Lukaku propelling Inter’s European dream

  • Inter reach their first European semifinal since 2010 when they went on to win the Champions League

MILAN: A record-breaking Romelu Lukaku is leading Inter Milan's chase for their first trophy in 9 years.

Eyebrows were raised last year when Inter shelled out a club record of around €65 million ($73 million) plus €13 million  ($15 million) in bonuses for Lukaku, who had had a disappointing final season at Manchester United.

However, Lukaku swiftly developed a scintillating partnership with Lautaro Martínez and their goals helped Inter sustain a title challenge before eventually finishing second in Serie A, a point behind Juventus.

Inter scored 81 league goals — well above the paltry 57 they managed in the previous campaign.

Lukaku scored again on Monday and set up another to help Inter beat Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 to reach the Europa League semifinals.

“Romelu has never played so well, not even in the past,” Inter coach Antonio Conte said.

The Belgian forward became the first player to find the net in nine consecutive Europa League games, surpassing the eight set by Alan Shearer for Newcastle in 2005.

Lukaku’s 31st goal of the season took him past the 30-mark for the first time in his career.

“I’ve always wanted to win, ever since I was little,” Lukaku said. “I’ve always said that I will give my all for this team.

“We’re a great team; my teammates help me a lot, otherwise I couldn’t do these things and achieve these numbers ... my teammates look for me. We’re doing well together, all of us.”

Inter reached their first European semifinal since 2010 when they went on to win the Champions League as well as Serie A and the Italian Cup to complete a historic treble.

They retained the Italian Cup the following year but have not managed to lift silverware since.

The Nerazzurri play Shakhtar Donetsk or Basel in the semifinals on Monday.

After an intense period of playing matches approximately every three days after soccer restarted following the pandemic-enforced shutdown, Conte has almost a week to prepare his players.

He will want to make sure they understand that profligacy can prove costly at this level.

Inter have often failed to kill off games in which they have  dominated, and that was again the case on Monday when they had opportunities to extend their advantage.

That allowed Leverkusen to stay in the quarterfinal despite having only two shots on target.

“We could have gone through in a more relaxed manner because, despite the fact that we never really had to dig in, the result was close,” Conte said.

“It’s difficult to be annoyed. I can only compliment the lads on their performance. As is the case after every game, we’ll analyze every situation and see where we can improve.”