China warned to watch out for Saudi Arabia's Young Falcons in Asian Games clash

Saudi Arabia's Abdulrahman Abdullah Ghareeb (C) celebrate scoring Myanmar, the Young Falcons will need him to have his scoring boots on on Friday. (AFP)
Updated 23 August 2018

China warned to watch out for Saudi Arabia's Young Falcons in Asian Games clash

  • Young Falcons reached the second round thanks to being one of the best third-placed sides in group stage.
  • China coach Massimiliano Maddaloni not taking Saudi Arabia lightly.

LONDON: China coach Massimiliano Maddaloni has warned his in-form team that they face a battle to progress to the quarterfinal, ahead of today’s Asian Games second-round clash against Saudi Arabia.

China took maximum points from the group stage with victories over Timor Leste, Syria and the United Arab Emirates, scoring 11 goals and conceding just one.

Excitement has been rising in East Asia that the team could go all the way in Indonesia and take gold, but Maddaloni is striving to keep his players’ feet very much on the ground and minds focused on the tough test ahead.

The Italian coach has told his relatively experienced stars that they will have to be at their best against the Young Falcons if they are to make good on their group-stage promise.

“Saudi Arabia came through a tough group and that will mean that they are fully ready and tested for the knockout stage,” Maddaloni told Arab News. 

“They are a young team with plenty of energy when they attack.”

The 52-year-old is hoping that the earlier victories over West Asian opposition will stand China in good stead.

“I don’t want to talk about it too much but technically they are good and move the ball around quickly,” added Maddaloni who has been working with senior team coach Marcello Lippi and was a former assistant to the World Cup winner at Chinese powerhouses Guangzhou Evergrande. “Saudi Arabia are also well-organized and defend well. They lost against North Korea but rested a lot of their players.”

China were perhaps the most impressive of the 25 participants in the group stage. Unlike Saudi Arabia, who are focused on preparing for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and have brought a young team to Indonesia, the East Asians are hoping for success right now, and hope to continue their group-stage form in the knockout rounds.

“The best part about winning three games is that it has improved our confidence,” Maddaloni said. “Even when things may not go according to plan during the game, the team believes that they can turn the situation around. The players understand that this is a tournament and there will be ups and downs along the way.”

China have been preparing for the tournament since early 2017. Zhang Yuning is one of the stars of the side and is currently on loan to ADO Den Haag in the top tier of the Netherlands league from England’s West Bromwich Albion.

“We haven’t had such a great feeling of winning in this way for a very long time,” Zhang, who has scored two goals so far, said. 

“Before, I never dreamed we could score like this. These results are a dream come true. I’m truly thrilled.”

Playing in Europe has helped the forward develop his game. 

“I did great preparation work for the new season with my club, and I played many games consecutively,” Zhang added.

“Because of those games and the trust of my coach, I feel that I have improved and I’ve taken that form with me here for the national team.”

Wei Shihao of Beijing Guoan has already made his debut for the senior national team and shown his attacking prowess with three goals in the group stage, while Yao Junsheng scored one of the goals of the tournament, a lob against the UAE, from the center circle.

The only injury concern ahead of  the clash today is Chinese international Liu Yiming. The towering central defender, who plays for Tianjin Quanjian, picked up a ligament injury against the UAE but is expected to be fit for Saudi Arabia.

Diriyah Tennis Cup serves up top-class fare

Updated 13 December 2019

Diriyah Tennis Cup serves up top-class fare

  • Day one of the three-day tournament saw Fognini, Monfils, Medvedev and Goffin through to the semi-finals

RIYADH: A new chapter was written today in Saudi Arabia’s sporting history as the first international tennis matches took place as part of the epic month of Diriyah Season.

The Diriyah Tennis Cup presented by Saudi Aramco will certainly go down in history as eight of the world’s best tennis stars met in the Diriyah Arena for the first-ever international tournament played in the Kingdom. 

The event also goes down in tennis history as not only the first in Saudi Arabia, but also one of the first to use Hawk-Eye Live technology. Replacing the need for line judges and providing more accuracy, Hawk-Eye Live sends visual and audio cues to the chair umpire and off-court monitors within a tenth of a second of a ball bouncing, to show faults and out of bounds shots without relying on the naked eye.

The first day as part of a three-day tournament saw all eight players in action in the opening matches. First up on court was Italian and world number 12 Fabio Fognini taking on American John Isner world number 19 and holder of the third fastest serve of all time in Men’s Tennis. Although both players will be written into the Kingdom’s history books, it was Fognini who was the record breaker as he delivered the first international serve and match win ever recorded, 7-6 6-4. 

Speaking after his win, Fabio Fognini said: “I won the first game of the competition, it’s nice. It’s something I will remember for sure and the people will remember as it is the first year we play here. I know they want to do something more [grassroots tennis], especially to improve tennis in this country so I’m happy.”

Commenting after the historic match, John Isner also added: “Very unique to be here and be part of this. I never thought I’d be here playing in Saudi Arabia. Very grateful and happy to be here. The ball kids did great tonight, fantastic job.”

Second up on the Diriyah Arena court was Swiss Stan Wawrinka, the world’s number 16, against Frenchman Gael Monfils the world’s number 10. Monfils took the win in straight sets 6-3 6-3. Monfils rallied the crowd by encouraging them to cheer and danced after some of his winning shots.

“So far it’s great. The offering they have here for us to perform is incredible. The court is one of the best…it’s quite nice. The people are very nice. I feel very good.” said Monfils.

Daniil Medvedev of Russia and Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany met in the third match of the evening. Medvedev made light work of Struff to take the win 6-3 6-1 and advance to the semi-finals.

Speaking after his win, Medvedev commented: “Was a great match. It’s never easy like this, after the end of the season, holidays and in the middle of pre-season to know how you are playing at this moment – are you strong or not? Today was a great match, beating Jan so easy is a great achievement because he’s a great player so I am really happy. The atmosphere was also really good and warm.”

In the final match of the night, Belgian’s David Goffin rallied with Lucas Pouille of France. Goffin took the final place in tomorrow night’s semi-finals beating Pouille 6-2 6-4.

After the match, Goffin commented: “Super organisation – the stadium is very nice. First time for me playing in Saudi, it’s a great atmosphere. I think for the people tonight it was something to see, professional tennis matches here. I think it was great for us and them as well. It’s a nice court and stadium – it could be a very nice center court in a big tournament.”

Today’s results will see Fognini of Italy meet Monfils of France in semi-final 1 and Medvedev of Russia will take on Goffin of Belgium on Friday 13th December. The remaining four players will still continue to play as part of the Consolation Bracket. The Diriyah Tennis Cup will conclude with the final on Saturday 14th December.