Juan Antonio Pizzi tells Saudi Arabia to improve or forget about beating Japan

Saudi Arabia looked lackluster during their 2-0 defeat at the hands of Qatar. (AFP)
Updated 18 January 2019

Juan Antonio Pizzi tells Saudi Arabia to improve or forget about beating Japan

  • Green Falcons face tough route to final starting with Japan in the second round on Monday.
  • Coach warns players they have no chance of ultimate glory unless they go up a gear in the UAE.

LONDON: Juan Antonio Pizzi has told his Green Falcons they will have to learn the lessons of their defeat to Qatar if they are to have a chance of beating Japan in the second round.
Pizzi’s players went into the Group E clash already assured of a place in the knockout stages, having beaten North Korea and Lebanon in their first two marches. But the prospect of topping the pool and avoiding four-time champions Japan was still motivation enough to avoid temptation to treat the Qatar match as a dead rubber.
In a lackluster performance — a marked contrast to the energy and creativity of their first two matches — the Green Falcons failed to impose themselves in the game and paid the price when two Almoez Ali goals gave the win and points to Qatar.
That left Pizzi annoyed, warning his players they cannot afford to make the same mistakes against Japan.
“We tried to impose our style of play on Qatar, but our finishing and our ability to make the right decisions at crucial moments were not there tonight,” Pizzi said.
“We were good in the first 30 minutes, but an individual error for the first goal and then another mistake from a set-piece saw us concede twice.
“I am just starting to think of the game versus Japan. As I have stated before, I respect all of the teams that are here and do not feel either superior or inferior to anyone.
“It is now important for us to learn from the mistakes we made against Qatar and perform better when we play Japan.”
The first rule of any tournament is to get through to the knockout stages. That Saudi Arabia have managed that, having failed in the 2011 and 2015 editions, is a success. Add to that the fact they qualified for their first World Cup in 12 years last year, and it is clear that Pizzi’s team is still one on the up.
If there is a positive to take out of the Qatar defeat it is that the side’s first poor performance in the tournament came in a group match having already made it through, rather than in a winner-takes-all encounter such as the one they face against the Blue Samurai in Sharjah on Monday.
“We will bounce back. I don’t feel that we are not as good as (Japan) in any way,” Pizzi said.


Tottenham look to seize on Chelsea’s Premier League slump

Updated 21 February 2020

Tottenham look to seize on Chelsea’s Premier League slump

LONDON: Jose Mourinho had almost reached the end of his lament about the current situation facing his weary Tottenham players when he turned his attention to their next Premier League game against a team he knows so well.

“The Chelsea players were watching this game on TV,” Mourinho said after Tottenham’s 1-0 home loss to Leipzig in the Champions League, “with nice sparkling water, with lemons and biscuits, enjoying the game.”

If only the outlook at Chelsea were so rosy.

Indeed, recent results suggest the predicament of Mourinho’s old club is more concerning than Tottenham’s.

Chelsea, somehow, find themselves still holding onto fourth place in the league heading into Saturday’s London derby against their nearest rivals in the race for Champions League qualification. That’s despite collecting only 15 points from its last 14 games, a dire run stretching back to the end of November.

At that time, Chelsea were on a six-match winning streak — its best since the team’s title-winning season of 2016-17 — and wasn’t too far behind Liverpool, the current runaway leader. Youngsters like Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori were regular starters, given their opportunity by an up-and-coming manager in Frank Lampard who is eager to promote youth. US winger Christian Pulisic was in his best form since his move from
Borussia Dortmund.

Fast forward three months and injuries are starting to bite, the kids are starting to feel the pace in a grueling season, and Lampard — a bright, eloquent and engaging manager — has been grumbling about the club’s failure to add numbers to the squad in January and his players’
wastefulness in front of goal.

“I must sound like a broken record,” a clearly frustrated Lampard said after seeing Chelsea get picked off in a 2-0 home loss to Manchester United on Monday.

Lampard’s main gripe is the team’s inability to finish off chances, which has become more pronounced with Abraham — a scorer of 13 league goals this season — currently out injured.

With Callum Hudson-Odoi and Pulisic also missing against United, Lampard played a front three of Willian, Michy Batshuayi and Pedro Rodriguez — a throwback to a few years ago and an era Chelsea fans probably thought they’d seen the back of.

Key midfielder N’Golo Kante joined Abraham on the injury list after going off early against United, while Lampard is still playing 38-year-old Willy Caballero in goal after dropping Kepa Arrizabalaga — signed in 2018 as the world’s most expensive goalkeeper.

It’s an uncertain period for Lampard, who is still a rookie in managerial terms, and Chelsea’s recent slump has seen as many as seven teams move within seven points or closer in the standings.

In that three-month period, Tottenham have won 29 points — a haul second only to Liverpool. That coincided exactly with Mourinho taking over as manager from Mauricio Pochettino.

The issue, now, is whether Spurs can keep it up, and Mourinho clearly has his doubts. With attackers Son Heung-min and Harry Kane out potentially for the rest of the season, Mourinho likened his team to someone “going to fight with a gun without bullets.”

Amid a hectic schedule that has seen his team play two FA Cup replays since the turn of the year, Mourinho said he has been forced to start with the same group of players for matches every three of four days. Erik Lamela and Tanguy Ndombele came off the bench against Leipzig having barely trained.

“I try to manage the pieces that we had,” he said.

Throw in the fact that Tottenham has a tight turnaround after the Leipzig match — Wednesday night to Saturday lunchtime — and Mourinho will feel he has genuine cause for grievance.

Yet, he is managing to scramble together results and a win at Stamford Bridge, where he previously enjoyed two separate trophy-winning spells as coach and was once revered, would see Tottenham climb above Chelsea.

Outmanoeuvring Mourinho, his former coach, in a 2-0 win at Tottenham in December was one of the few bright spots for Lampard in recent months. 

Doing so again would give him and Chelsea some much-needed breathing space in what is suddenly a bunched chase for Champions League qualification.