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.”


Southgate to bring Sterling back from England exile

Updated 17 November 2019

Southgate to bring Sterling back from England exile

  • World Cup semifinalists ‘still have room for improvement as they chase first major title since 1966’

PRISTINA:  Gareth Southgate is set to bring Raheem Sterling back from his brief England exile in Sunday’s qualifier against Kosovo as he seeks to end the controversy over the Manchester City star’s row with Joe Gomez.

Sterling was dropped for Thursday’s 7-0 rout of Montenegro after clashing with England team-mate Gomez in the Three Lions’ training base canteen.

It is believed Sterling was unhappy with Gomez following an altercation with the Liverpool defender during City’s Premier League defeat at Anfield last weekend.

Although Sterling was left out of the Montenegro game as punishment for his attack on Gomez, Southgate has confirmed the winger will return for England’s final Group A fixture.

Sterling and Gomez, left with a scratch under his eye after the incident, are said to have patched up their relationship, but the center-back was jeered by England fans at Wembley when he came on as a substitute against Montenegro.

Both Southgate and Sterling expressed their support for Gomez and criticized the booing supporters, with the England manager reportedly comforting the shocked 22-year-old and his family after the match.

Now Southgate could include Gomez against Kosovo in a show of support for the Liverpool player.

With England already guaranteed to qualify for Euro 2020 in first place in their group, Southgate already planned to make changes, although he is keen to ensure England finish with a win as they eye a top-six seeding in next year’s tournament.

“We will make some changes, for sure, but the seeding in the group could be critical and we know it’s a big night for the Kosovans,” Southgate said.

“It’s a shame for them that they’re now out of this part of the qualification, although they’ve still got the playoffs in which I think they’ll be a huge threat in that format. “So, it will be a good test for us because it will still be a lively environment.

“The enthusiasm for the game is high and we want to finish the group with as many points as we can.”

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson could return following a one-match ban, while Southgate has to decide whether to keep faith with Ben Chilwell ahead of Danny Rose at left-back.

Harry Kane may have scored a hat-trick against Montenegro but it was Leicester’s Chilwell who was named England’s man of the match following a fine display in which he provided three assists in the opening 24 minutes.

“Ben, I liked the hunger in his game, the enthusiasm to get forward,” Southgate said.

“The whole team pressed well but he also pressed well from that full-back position, got into overlaps, his quality of delivery was excellent.”

Although England have cruised through their qualifying group, Southgate believes the 2018 World Cup semifinalists still have room for improvement as they chase a first major title since 1966.

“There were a couple of chances we conceded that just shouldn’t happen, so that’s still part of our game that we’ve got to improve upon,” he said.

“If we are to be a team that are going to challenge seriously, although we’re young, we’ve got to manage games well.

“We’ve got to make sure that, although we’re such a fantastic attacking threat, the rest of the team is right as well. There are things we’ve got to be better at.”