Saudi Arabia warned not to be complacent at Asian Cup in UAE

Saudi Arabia warned not to be complacent at Asian Cup in UAE
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Salem Al-Dawsari celebrates his World Cup goal against Egypt - he and his Saudi Arabia teammates, though, have been told not to underestimate their Asian Cup rivals. (AFP)
Saudi Arabia warned not to be complacent at Asian Cup in UAE
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Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi. (AFP)
Updated 24 July 2018

Saudi Arabia warned not to be complacent at Asian Cup in UAE

Saudi Arabia warned not to be complacent at Asian Cup in UAE
  • Saudi Arabia’s won 2-1 against Egypt in Russia last month in their final World Cup group match
  • The Green Falcons team manager Omar Bakhashwain has warned they must not underestimate their opponents if they are to return to Riyadh with a first continental title since 1996

LONDON: After a World Cup campaign that included a first victory for 24 years, Saudi Arabia will arrive in the UAE in January as one of the favorites to lift the Asian Cup. The Green Falcons team manager Omar Bakhashwain, however, has warned they must not underestimate their opponents if they are to return to Riyadh with a first continental title since 1996.
Saudi Arabia’s 2-1 win over Egypt in Russia last month in their final World Cup group match capped a campaign that had started horribly with a 5-0 defeat to Russia, but improved match-by-match. Now, with Argentine coach Juan Antonio Pizzi expected to call upon the majority of the same 23 players for next year’s Asian finals, the hope is that the recent international exposure can stand them in good stead.
“For sure, the players will take away experience from the World Cup,” Bakhashwain said. “Any positives we left with we can use in the next competition and the negative things we have to try to forget and not do again.
“You can never predict what is going to happen though. You have to know that all teams at the Asian Cup are well-prepared, respect them all and be ready for everything.” 
Pizzi and his staff will return to Riyadh next week to begin planning the training camps ahead of the tournament, which kicks off on Jan. 5 and will see Saudi Arabia face Qatar, Lebanon and North Korea in Group E. A series of preparatory friendlies are in the pipeline and are expected to be formally announced by the Saudi Arabia Football Federation during the first week of August.
“What is important is to be one team and one unit — especially the spirit,” Bakhashwain said.
“If the preparation is good we can achieve something special, but it will be difficult. Football in Asia is getting stronger and stronger. Japan are a very strong team, Australia are a very strong team, Iran are playing well now too, Korea … All teams are strong now; there are five or six teams at almost the same level, plus you can always expect surprises from the other teams.”
With the Gulf climate playing in the greens Falcons’ favor and local language and dietary options making the tournament feel more like a home event, Pizzi and Co. will hope to benefit from playing their group-stage matches in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, both of which are fewer than 1,000 kilometers from the Saudi capital. Three-time winners, Saudi Arabia have not won the 62-year-old tournament since it was last held in the Emirates in 1996.
“Traveling is not so important for most of the teams because we all travel and the climate also is not so important because most teams will come two weeks before. In Russia, we played in Volgograd where it’s hot and Moscow where its cold, so you adapt quickly,” Bakhashwain said.
“It is, however, a similar atmosphere to Saudi in terms of food and language, so this will be a slight advantage. Really, any advantage you can find you try to make work for you.”
Tickets for the month-long event will officially go on sale next Monday after a series of meetings culminated yesterday at the headquarters of the Asian Football Confederation in Kuala Lumpur. With 24 countries involved in the competition, it will mark the largest edition in the tournament’s history.
Dato Windsor John, the general secretary of the AFC, said he was “impressed with the progress” made by the UAE local organizing committee as the final stage of preparation begins.
“The AFC, along with the LOC, are fully committed toward providing the ultimate stage to showcase the undeniable talent in Asia,” John said.
“I am confident that by bringing Asia together, our teams, players and ultimately our passionate fans will experience a tournament of a lifetime.”
Head of the UAE’s local organizing committee, Aref Hamed Al-Awani, promised a tournament that will be “open, safe, accessible, (and) affordable”.
Tickets start from as low as $6.80, with the most expensive package for the final on Feb. 1 costing a little more than $80.