Juan Antonio Pizzi upbeat ahead of Saudi Arabia opener against North Korea

Pizzi says his players are ready to get their campaign underway in the UAE. (AFP)
Updated 08 January 2019

Juan Antonio Pizzi upbeat ahead of Saudi Arabia opener against North Korea

  • Green Falcons coach confident side can make statement of intent at Asian Cup.
  • Pizzi's players to face North Korea in Dubai on Tuesday.

LONDON: Saudi Arabia have been told not to get ahead of themselves as they prepare to face North Korea in their Group E opener today.
The Green Falcons head into the tournament as one of the favorites to lift the trophy come Feb. 1. On the back of a first win at the World Cup — a 2-1 victory over Egypt in Russia last June — Juan Antonio Pizzi’s players have enjoyed a successful past six months, losing just once to Brazil.
But perhaps only too aware that among those results have been four draws and that this tournament has already thrown up some surprising results — the most striking of which was Jordan’s 1-0 win over Australia on Sunday — the coach has warned his side they must take it game by game to avoid an early exit.
“I am personally considering each game as an important one. The match against North Korea will be important to us,” Pizzi said.
“Once we get through them then we will focus on our next games.”
The last time Saudi Arabia played in a tournament opener it ended in an embarrassing 5-0 defeat at the hands of hosts Russia at last year’s World Cup. From that moment on it was always unlikely the Green Falcons would fly in to the knockout stages, even if improved performances in their matches against Uruguay and Egypt have proved to be a valuable springboard to this month’s Asian Cup.
With lessons learned from the showpiece in Russia and with the players’ feet ordered to be planted firmly on the ground Pizzi, while preaching caution, cut a confident figure ahead of the North Korea clash.
“(The match against North
Korea) is going to be important and personally we prepared very well for the tournament,” Pizzi said. “With trust in the team, I would like to repeat that with ambition and confidence we will hope to achieve our goals.”
The commonly used but generally accurate mantra for every coach and team heading into a tournament is to avoid defeat in the first match. North Korea, while not a continental powerhouse like their southern neighbors, are savvy operators and will likely prove obdurate opponents in their clash at Dubai’s Rashid Stadium.
That quality is not lost on the Green Falcons coach who said the standard of Asian football has risen substantially in the past few years — an improvement witnessed at the World Cup when the continent had five representatives for the first time.
“Recently Asian football had improved a lot and it would be a good tournament to participate in,” Pizzi said.
The one downside the coach has had to deal with heading into the opener is an injury to Salman Al-Faraj. The midfielder was Saudi Arabia’s standout player at the World Cup but has failed to recover in time to make the starting line-up.
“We took maximum time to decide on Salman. We tried in all manners to have him with our squad. We also appreciate the effort by Salman to try to be with us,” Pizzi said.
“Unfortunately he did not pass the final training session.”


Saudi driver Reema Juffali makes history as first woman to compete in Saudi Arabia

Updated 22 November 2019

Saudi driver Reema Juffali makes history as first woman to compete in Saudi Arabia

  • Juffali is VIP driver in the Jaguar I-PACE e-TROPHY
  • Ahead of the race she said: “I am very excited"

RIYADH: Reema Juffali made history on Friday by becoming the first Saudi Arabian female racer to drive competitively in the Kingdom.

As the VIP driver in the Jaguar I-PACE e-TROPHY, Reema took to the track at the Diriyah Circuit in the official qualifying round on Friday morning ahead of her first race later in the day.

She completed her fastest lap of the demanding track created in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage site in 1 min 39 seconds, a little over 5 second behind the pole position.

She will go into the official championship race at the back of the grid, but that takes nothing away from the moment for the young driver from Jeddah.

Ahead of the race she said: “I am very excited, I never thought this day would come, or at least I didn’t know when and it came a lot sooner than expected. I’m a year into racing and here I am now about to race at home which is an incredible feeling.”

The Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY series is the official support race the SAUDIA Diriyah E-Prix the opening double header for the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.