Juan Antonio Pizzi hoping World Cup ‘feel-good’ factor can inspire Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia in training ahead of their friendly with Bolivia. (Twitter: Saudi National Team)
Updated 08 September 2018
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Juan Antonio Pizzi hoping World Cup ‘feel-good’ factor can inspire Saudi Arabia

  • Juan Antonio Pizzi want his team to carry on where they left off at this summer’s World Cup
  • Pizzi took the reins in November and, after the win over Egypt, was handed an extension until after the Asian Cup

Juan Antonio Pizzi wants Saudi Arabia to carry on where they left off at this summer’s World Cup in Russia when they face Bolivia in a friendly in Riyadh on Monday in preparation for the Asian Cup.

In Russia, the Green Falcons recovered from a 5-0 opening game thrashing against the hosts  to narrowly lose 1-0 to Uruguay before ending the tournament with a last-minute victory over Egypt, a first win on the global stage since 1994.

“I couldn’t sleep that night after the Russia game and it was a difficult day for all of us,” Pizzi told Saudi television. “I was sad and it was a disaster. The difference between the two teams was not massive on the day, it is just that we made individual mistakes.”

Under the Argentine, the Green Falcons bounced back in the following two games. 

“We showed a much better game against Uruguay and the win over Egypt was a joy and that is what we are aiming for as we move to the 2019 Asian Cup, starting now,” he added. “At the World Cup, we showed what we are capable of. We showed character and that we can play football. We have to remember that as we move forward.”

Pizzi took over the reins in November and, after the win over Egypt, was handed an extension until after the Asian Cup in January as Saudi Arabia aim to win the continental competition for the first time since 1996. At the 2019 Asian Cup, to be held in the UAE, the Green Falcons will take on Qatar, Lebanon and North Korea. 

Monday’s game against Bolivia marks Pizzi’s 13th game in charge and a chance for win number five.

There were few surprises in the squad named by Pizzi, but veteran striker Mohammad Al-Sahlawi and goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf, who both went to the Russia, did not make the squad selected to take on the South Americans.

“The door is still open for all players,” he insisted. “Those who perform well and show what they can do will always have a chance of being called up. It is all about putting together the right team and squad for the Asian Cup.”

There were two withdrawals from the squad — Al-Ahli center-back Motaz Hawsawi has been struggling for fitness and has been replaced by Al-Shabab’s Abdulaziz Haroon, who could make his debut. Al-Shabab teammate Hattan Bahebri has been allowed to leave the training camp on compassionate grounds after an uncle of the 26-year-old midfielder passed away.

Abdulrahman Al-Aboud may also get a chance to start. The Ettifaq midfielder has been called up for the first time and is looking forward to staking his claim for a place ahead of the Asian Cup. 

“I am delighted to be in the training camp and am enjoying it, the coach is very technical and I am always learning. It is great to be here,” Al-Aboud said.

The 23 year-old is looking forward to taking on Bolivia. “They are a good team and will give us the kind of test we need as we prepare for the Asian Cup.” 

Bolivia, preparing for the start of qualification for the 2022 World Cup, have brought a strong team to Riyadh that includes Gilbert Alvarez, the striker who joined Saudi side Al-Hazm in August. Coach Cesar Farias is looking forward to the challenge. 

“We saw Saudi Arabia at the World Cup. After the first game, they played well, they were well-organized, defended well and worked hard,” Farias said. 

Farias, familiar with his opposite number, added: “Pizzi knows how to build a team and took Chile to the Copa America title in 2016. I am sure that Saudi Arabia will be successful with him in charge.”

On Friday, it was confirmed that Saudi Arabia’s next international game will be against Brazil on Oct. 12 at Riyadh’s King Saud University Stadium.


Al-Hilal advance into AFC Champions League semifinals

Updated 18 September 2019

Al-Hilal advance into AFC Champions League semifinals

  • Riyadh-based team beat Al-Ittihad of Jeddah in the all-Saudi final eight showdown

JEDDAH: Al-Hilal battled from one goal down early to beat Al-Ittihad in the all-Saudi quarterfinal and advance to the AFC Champions League semifinals at the King Saud University Stadium in Riyadh.

After a goalless draw in the first leg in Jeddah, Ittihad looked to have the advantage of  the away goals rule after scoring in the 10th minute courtesy of Ziyad Al-Sahafi.

But the Riyadh-based Hilal regrouped and tallied three unanswered goals to qualify for the final four on 3-1 agregate victory in the two-leg final eight contest. Hilal meet Qatar’s Al-Sadd in the semifinals.

Andre Carrillo equalized for Hilal with a goal in the 44th minute. Salem Al-Dawsari  and Italian import Sebastian Giovinco then put Hilal on the way to victory with goals in minutes 48 and 78.

Earlier in Japan, captain fantastic Shinzo Koroki's powerful first-half header via crossbar and goalkeeper proved enough to squeeze Urawa Red Diamonds into the semifinals  at the expense of Shanghai SIPG on the away goals rule Tuesday.

Wang Shenchao equalized for the visitors with a cool volley on the hour, but the Japanese side comfortably held on for a 1-1 draw and a semifinal place courtesy of the goals scored by Tomoaki Makino and Koroki three weeks ago when the first leg was drawn 2-2 in Shanghai.

The prolific Koroki was, however, officially denied his seventh strike of the campaign on a technicality.

Gloveman Yan Junling was credited with an own goal after palming Koroki's 39th-minute header from Takahiro Sekine's cross onto the woodwork and watching helplessly as it cannoned back into his outstretched arm and over the line.

That was harsh on Yan, who had kept his toothless side — packed with expensive imports — in the tie with a string of saves as Urawa pressed for the cushion of a second goal on a sultry night in Saitama.

It was a poor performance by Vitor Pereira's SIPG side, who were devoid of penetration up front without suspended 55 million euro Brazilian striker Hulk, who had scored both first leg goals from the penalty spot as they came from 2-0 down.

Instead they started with Marko Arnautovic at centre forward, the big Austrian having been signed from English Premier League West Ham last month for 25 million euros.

But with playmaker Oscar — who cost 60 million euros from Chelsea — having an off night, chances remained few and far between.

SIPG had little fluency in the attacking third, a familiar trait that has seen them exit with a curious unbeaten streak of seven draws and one win in their last eight matches in this year's Champions League.

Arnautovic's best efforts were a wasteful header over from six yards out, which would not have counted anyway as the referee had blown for a push, and a tame shot easily deflected for a corner eight minutes from time.

After Shenchao's equalizer SIPG still needed another goal but it was Urawa who seconds later came closest, Daiki Hashioka thumping a shot against the crossbar and Tsuyoshi Otsuki's side continued to carry the more serious threat on the counter attack.

Urawa, the 2007 and 2017 AFC Champions League winners, progress to their fourth semi-final appearance where they will face either defending champions Kashima Antlers or Guangzhou Evergrande, who play Wednesday. Their first leg in China ended 0-0.