Juan Antonio Pizzi confident Saudi Arabia can mount an Asian Cup title challenge

Salem Al-Dawsari scored for the Green Falcons during their 4-0 win over North Korea and will be a key man for the side in the UAE. (AFP))
Updated 11 January 2019

Juan Antonio Pizzi confident Saudi Arabia can mount an Asian Cup title challenge

LONDON: Saudi Arabia are feeling confident and ready to take on anyone, that is the message Juan Antonio Pizzi has delivered to the team’s title rivals ahead of today’s Group E clash against Lebanon.
The Green Falcons won their opening match in emphatic style against North Korea on Tuesday. The 4-0 win seemingly imbuing the side with a lot of belief as well as the all-important three points.
They can confirm their spot in the second round with victory over a Lebanon side who felt aggrieved during their 2-0 loss at the hands of Qatar — coach Miodrag Radulovic hitting out at what his thought was awful refereeing.
Pizzi and his players are chomping at the bit to get at the Cedars and confirm that they are one of the teams to beat in the UAE.
“If the team continues at the level that they did against North Korea, it will be difficult for any other nation in the tournament to defeat us,” the coach said.
“We are ready for (the match against Lebanon), we hope to apply what we planned for in the match. We trust in our abilities and will look to impose our philosophy.”
Such confidence is perhaps understandable. The win was Saudi Arabia’s first in an Asian Cup since 1996 and only confirmed that the good run of form shown coming into the tournament was a pointer to possible success rather than false promise.
But while confidence is clear for all too see Pizzi insisted they will not be taking victory against Lebanon for granted.
“I previously said at the beginning of the tournament that every team has its strong points, and I think Lebanon are ready to match our strengths. We know the only way to win is to do our best,” the former Spain international said.
Green Falcons midfielder Hussein Al-Moqahwi illustrated the players were singing from the same song book as their boss revealing he and his teammates were expecting a tough test against Radulovic’s team.
“Tomorrow’s game will be tough, especially since Lebanon lost their first match,” the midfielder said. “This is one of the most dangerous games, but hopefully the three points will be ours.”
Before the tournament Pizzi emphasized the benefit of finally having his players all together for a long stretch of time, saying he was able implement his ideas far better than at the World Cup, when he was only six months into the job and very much in at the deep end.
That is something Al-Moqahwi agreed with.
“We have adapted to the manager’s style of play and hopefully will be able to implement it during the match,” he said.


Injured Serena withdraws from French Open; Nadal cruises

Updated 01 October 2020

Injured Serena withdraws from French Open; Nadal cruises

  • The 39-year-old Williams, a three-time winner at Roland Garros, pulled out ahead of her second round match

PARIS: Serena Williams suffered another blow in her bid for a 24th Grand Slam title as the American withdrew from the French Open on Wednesday with an Achilles injury, while 12-time champion Rafael Nadal raced into the third round.

The 39-year-old Williams, a three-time winner at Roland Garros, pulled out ahead of her second round match against Tsvetana Pironkova citing the injury that prompted her to skip the Rome tuneup event.

“The Achilles didn't have enough time to heal after the US Open,” said Williams, who admitted last week she was not fully fit after her run to the semifinals in New York.

“I'm struggling to walk, so that's kind of a telltale sign that I should try to recover.”

The injury likely means she will miss the rest of 2020, leaving the Australian Open in 2021 as her next chance to equal Margaret Court's all-time majors record.

Nadal looked in ominous form as he stepped up his pursuit of Roger Federer's 20 major titles with a crushing win over 236th-ranked American Mackenzie McDonald.

The Spaniard batted aside McDonald 6-1, 6-0, 6-3 in exactly 100 minutes and will meet Japan's Kei Nishikori or Stefano Travaglia of Italy for a spot in the last 16.

“The aim was to play as well as possible. I'm very happy. I have another difficult match next,” said Nadal. The 34-year-old needs one more major to pull level with long-time rival Federer and owns an astonishing 95-2 record in Paris going back to his triumph on debut in 2005.

US Open champion Dominic Thiem swept into the third round with a 6-1, 6-3, 7-6 (8/6) victory over American qualifier Jack Sock, saving three set points to close out the match.

The Austrian third seed will play Norway's Casper Ruud, seeded 28th, or American Tommy Paul for a place in the last 16.

“I'm very happy with my game in the first two rounds. It was not an easy draw at all and I'm very happy not to drop a set,” said Thiem, who defeated 2014 US Open winner Marin Cilic in round one.

Dutch fifth seed Kiki Bertens had to be taken off court in a wheelchair after a fiery win over former finalist Sara Errani.

Bertens triumphed 7-6 (7/5), 3-6, 9-7 in a three-hour 11-minute clash which left her in cramps and Italian Errani screaming an obscenity as she left the court.

"After one hour, she's injured but then she's running around like never before," said Errani.

"She leaves the court in a chair and now she's in the locker room and eating in the restaurant, perfect. She exaggerated."

Bertens is due to meet Katerina Siniakova next while Elina Svitolina overcame Mexican qualifier Renata Zarazua 6-3, 0-6, 6-2.

The Ukrainian third seed is coming off a title at Strasbourg last week and will next play Russian 27th seed Ekaterina Alexandrova, but was briefly taken aback by a sonic boom.

Stan Wawrinka, the 2015 French Open winner, followed up his demolition of Andy Murray with a 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 defeat of Germany's Dominik Koepfer.

Sebastian Korda, the son of 1992 Roland Garros runner-up and 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda, also progressed after a four-sets victory over fellow American John Isner.