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.”


Runners step back in time on AlUla’s historic trails

Updated 19 February 2020

Runners step back in time on AlUla’s historic trails

  • Top-ranked athletes came from Saudi Arabia, the US and the Netherlands

ALULA: More than 260 athletes from around the world took part in the recent EcoTrail AlUla, a multi-track running race through the dramatic landscapes of AlUla in Saudi Arabia’s northwest.
Top-ranked athletes came from Saudi Arabia, the US and the Netherlands. The race was staged as part of the second season of the Winter at Tantora festival, organized by the Royal Commission for AlUla to promote the historic site as an exceptional tourist destination for heritage, arts, culture and sports.

Events took place on three different courses — an 83 km track, followed by a 45 km and a 10 km track — with international athletes taking part in each of the races.

In the 10 km course, 139 contestants took part in the competition, with 125 managing to complete the run. Saudi runner Mohammed Madkhali won first place, while Yemeni runner Fares Aman Aldin came in second and another Saudi runner, Meshari Almuhanna, finished third.

In the women’s category, US runner Meredith Byrne won first place, Saudi runner Sarah Abdullatif came in second, and British runner Maureen McConnell finished third.

Ninety athletes took part in the 45 km race, with 85 finishing. Saudi runner Abdulaziz Al-Ghamdi came in first, with Australian Matthew Sudich second and French runner Nicholas Mordelet in third.

In the women’s category, Dutch runner Floortje Rawee came in first, followed by Italian Alessandra Grassi in second and American Natasha Turak third.

The 83 km race featured 37 athletes with only 17 finishing. In the men’s category, US runner Michael Wardian finished first, followed by Pierre Breuer from Belgium in second and Malaysia’s Soonseng Ong third.

In the women’s category, Amy Sproston from the US ranked first, with Ruth Theresia from Indonesia second and American Rachel Bessette third.

EcoTrail AlUla attracted athletes from around the world, most notably the US, UK, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, France, Sweden, the UAE, Malaysia, Singapore, Jordan, Oman, Peru, Poland and Indonesia.

The one-day trail gave visitors the opportunity to become acquainted with AlUla and its distinctive natural, cultural, architectural and historical monuments. The trail is an eye-catching destination for running enthusiasts and jogging clubs, and will encourage people to visit AlUla and Saudi Arabia to take part in a global sporting event that promotes environmentally friendly principles and initiatives.

The race contained several medical care stops and catering stations, and each participant received a number in addition to a welcome gift and a shirt. An inaugural dinner was held to welcome contestants on the night before the race.

EcoTrail AlUla is the first race to occur in the Middle East and one of the most notable sports events of this year’s Winter at Tantora festival. The race was sponsored by STC, Almarai Company, Sabeeka Energy Bar, Whites, and Hussak Adventures. The festival’s latest season also provides a wide range of diverse experiences that meet the needs of all visitors and entertain all tastes, for individuals, groups or families from all walks of life.

The festival began on Dec. 19 and will run until March 7, 2020. Guests of the second season of this year will be able to visit the astonishing historical and heritage sites exclusively, and attend the international musical and artistic performances.