High-flying Saudi Arabia set sights on silverware ahead of Qatar clash

Updated 16 January 2019

High-flying Saudi Arabia set sights on silverware ahead of Qatar clash

  • Green Falcons on a high as they aim to top group with victory over Qataris.
  • Winner of Group E will face Iraq in second round.

LONDON: Saudi Arabia only have one thing on their minds — lifting the trophy on Feb. 1 in Abu Dhabi.
The Green Falcons face Qatar in the UAE capital today with both sides having already confirmed their places in the second round. Juan Antonio Pizzi’s players have been impressive so far thanks to a 4-0 victory against North Korea, followed by a relatively simple 2-0 win over Lebanon.
That fine form has Fahad Al-Muwallad dreaming of the Green Falcons going all the way.
“As a player I have followed many matches in this Asian Cup and all the teams have ambitions to reach the final and win the title. We promise that within our team that our ambition is the highest among all,” the forward said.
“We only play to win the title, nothing less, regardless of who we play.”
Having started so well such confidence is understandable, not least because in their last tournament, the World Cup, the team lost 5-0 and 1-0 — to Russia and Uruguay, respectively — in their opening two clashes.
Added to that is the fact that of the favorites only Iran appeared to be on top of their game, while the likes of South Korea and Japan looked to be stuck in second gear.

Juan Antonio Pizzi is looking for victory over Qatar in a build to maintain the momentum the Green Falcons have built up during wins over North Korea and Lebanon. (AFP)

But anyone thinking Saudi Arabia are getting ahead of themselves have been told to think again. While the Green Falcons are confident and seeking to ramp up their title challenge in the knockout stages, they are aware they must win today to top Group E.
“Our qualification does not mean that we will underestimate the importance of tomorrow’s match,” Al-Muwallad said.
“We will try to play every game as hard as we can.”
That is the message being delivered by Pizzi. Having seen his team get off to such a great, positive start, the manager is keen not to lose any momentum ahead of the second round.
“What matters in such tournaments is achieving good results, which we were able to do in the first two matches against Lebanon and North Korea,” he said.
“We hope to fulfill the aspirations of Saudi football fans who watch each and every match, and we intend to play with the same importance.”
Should the Green Falcons continue their good form and beat Qatar — who have looked equally as impressive in their 2-0 win over Lebanon and 6-0 hammering of North Korea — they will top the group and face Iraq next Tuesday.
“Qatar is a team with many qualities and they have good strikers. However, we are also doing well collectively and I have full confidence that my players can get the three points,” the former Spain international said.
“We will try to do our best to win (against Qatar), even if we have qualified to the knockout rounds, our strategy to win the game will not change.”
Pizzi’s opposite number Felix Sanchez was equally adamant that his side would not play for a draw — their better goal difference would secure them top spot, however — and would aim for a win.
“We are doing exactly the same as we have for the other games, but we know it is a match which will decide top spot,” the Spaniard said.
“We will plan well, as we did for the other matches. The focus now is on Saudi Arabia and we must plan for a good game.”

Free-scoring Salzburg pose serious threat to leaky Liverpool

Updated 10 December 2019

Free-scoring Salzburg pose serious threat to leaky Liverpool

  • Injury-hit Reds have consistently leaked goals despite streaking clear at the top of Premier League

LONDON: Liverpool travel to Salzburg on Tuesday needing to avoid defeat to the confident Austrian champions to guard against an embarrassing Champions League group stage exit for the holders.

Jurgen Klopp's men are used to getting through to the knockout stages the hard way. In each of the past two seasons they have needed home wins to secure a place in the last 16 before going on to make the final.

However, the specter of a free-scoring Salzburg, led by the Champions League's top scorer in Erlin Braut Haaland spells trouble for an injury-hit Liverpool backline that has consistently leaked goals this season despite streaking clear at the top of the Premier League.

The Reds' recorded a first clean sheet in 14 games in Saturday's 3-0 win at Bournemouth, but lost another center back as Dejan Lovren limped off in the first half.

Should the Croatian miss the trip to Austria, Joe Gomez will be Klopp's only fit partner for Virgil van Dijk in central defense.

Van Dijk narrowly missed out to Lionel Messi in the battle for the Ballon d'Or last week in recognition of the transformative effect he has had on Liverpool's fortunes over the past two years.

But even the towering Dutchman has been incapable of stopping the steady flow of goals against in recent months.

Injuries have meant there has been a constant rotation of Lovren, Gomez and Joel Matip alongside Van Dijk, while the attacking impetus offered by fullbacks Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold leaves space in behind to be exploited.

Goalkeeper Alisson Becker also missed the first two months of the season due to a calf injury to further unsettle the backline.

The Brazilian is now back, but another injury to Fabinho has robbed the back four of the best player to protect them in the holding midfield role.

"I forgot how it feels, to be honest," said Klopp on finally ending the long wait for a clean sheet at the weekend.

"It's great, we should have them more often. It was the most-used word in the dressing room by the boys — "clean sheet, clean sheet, clean sheet."

"Obviously everybody was desperate for that, now we have it so let's have it more often.

"The next game where a clean sheet would be useful is already around the corner, against Salzburg on Tuesday."

That is easier said than done as Liverpool know from their first meeting with Jesse Marsch's men in October.

The hosts seemed to be cruising to another Anfield win in the Champions League as they raced into a 3-0 lead, but Salzburg hit back to level at 3-3 before Mohamed Salah's winner ensured Liverpool edged a seven-goal thriller.

Salzburg have scored 87 goals in 24 games in all competitions this season, 28 of which have come from Norwegian wonderkid Haaland in just 21 appearances.

The 19-year-old started on the bench when the sides met at Anfield due to injury, but came on to inspire the visitors' revival in the second half and scored one of his eight Champions League goals.

"He's not the only threat from Salzburg but he's a proper one," said Klopp of the danger posed by Haaland ahead of the sides' first clash.

Salzburg need to win to make the last 16 on their first appearance in the group stage in 25 years.

A point would be enough for Liverpool to progress, but they need to win to secure top spot in Group E ahead of Napoli.

Given Liverpool's paucity of clean sheets and Salzburg's thirst for goals, attack would appear to be the best form of defencse for the European champions.