5 things to look out for as Arab quartet start Qatar 2022 preparations

5 things to look out for as Arab quartet start Qatar 2022 preparations
Saudi Arabia are set to play two friendly matches during their upcoming training camp in Spain. (AN photo: Basheer Saleh)
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Updated 18 September 2022

5 things to look out for as Arab quartet start Qatar 2022 preparations

5 things to look out for as Arab quartet start Qatar 2022 preparations
  • Saudi Arabia set to face Ecuador, US during training camp in Spain

RIYADH: The World Cup moves a step closer next week with all four Arab participants taking part in friendly matches. Arab News has five talking points ahead of the crucial international break.

1. Saudi Arabia looking for result against Ecuador

The Green Falcons are heading to Spain for a training camp and games against fellow World Cup entrants Ecuador and the US.

At this stage of preparation, performances are more important than results but disappointing defeats against Colombia and Venezuela in June, two South American teams that will not even be in Qatar, showed that there is still much work to do.

Ecuador will be there and are once again concerned that they could be kicked out of the tournament after being accused of fielding an ineligible player in qualification. It is up to Herve Renard and the players to take advantage of any distraction.

It is important for confidence and self-belief to get a result. A win would obviously be ideal as it is important for Saudi Arabia to know they can defeat a team from South America – after all, the opening game in November is against Argentina – but not falling to a third straight defeat would be a step in the right direction.

After that is a test against the US who released a roster full of players in action at high levels in Europe, a sobering reminder of the quality that even a team that is not expected to go far at the World Cup possess – but all the focus needs to be on getting a result against Ecuador.

2. Tunisia need to build on encouraging results

Tunisia are heading to France for a training camp and it is a feather in their cap to be facing Brazil so close to the World Cup. It is also important given that the Carthage Eagles are going to be taking on defending champions France as well as Denmark and Australia in Qatar. It is a tough group and needs the best preparation.

Yet the North Africans will do well not to focus too much on the five-time world champions. First comes a crucial friendly against Comoros, an opponent that should not be underestimated as they reached the knockout stages of the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year.

Tunisia are now flying, however, after scraping through their World Cup qualifying play-off. In June there was a 2-0 win over Chile and an excellent 3-0 victory over Japan in Japan, one that deserved more praise than it received as it really showed what the team is capable of.

All knew that the defense was solid, but they have been more ruthless in attack. A good win over Comoros would keep confidence high ahead of the big game with Brazil that should give an excellent indication of where the team is at.

3. Ziyech returns in new Moroccan era

As they prepare for a Spanish training camp and games against Chile and Paraguay, this is a crucial time for Morocco.

Much has happened since the Atlas Lions defeated Liberia 2-0 in June. It was not a big surprise that coach Vahid Halilhodzic was fired last month after falling out with players — especially star man Hakim Ziyech — and losing the support of fans.

Now it is all change. Local boss Walid Regragui has taken over and the nation is behind the man who led Wydad to the African Champions League title this May.

Now Ziyech is back in the team for the first time since June 2021 and it is a big chance for the player to take his national team to the next level. All eyes will be on the Chelsea star to show what he can do. It is also important for his club situation too. The winger has not had a great time in London, and it could be that he will be on the move in January.

Before then, however, he has a chance to play and also perhaps show new Chelsea boss Graham Potter what he can do.

4. Time for Qatar to get their stars shining

The World Cup hosts were in Austria just last month for games against Morocco, Ghana, and Jamaica. Now they return for three more: Bolivia, Canada, and Chile. The Maroons have played 13 friendlies this year so far, some against clubs and some against national teams. After 12 years of preparation, there are only a few weeks left.

There are no real surprises in the squad as coach Felix Sanchez has been in the job for five years and was with the youth teams before that. The Spanish boss knows all there is to know about his players.

Now it is about trying to ensure that the front two are firing. Almoez Ali and Akram Afif are two of the best players in Asia and were hugely important in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup triumph. Much depends on the duo staying fit and being at their best as there are no real replacements. When things are going well, they have an instinctive partnership and if the remaining games can ensure that feeling is present then it will be a case of job done.

5. Big chance for Haroune Camara to stake Saudi Arabia claim

It is no secret that Saudi Arabia are short of options in attack heading into the World Cup. With Saleh Al-Shehri still injured, there are going to be chances for others.

So up steps Haroune Camara who has not played for the national team since 2019. That the Al-Ittihad forward has talent is undeniable, but he has lacked consistency and end product too often.

Last season was a reasonable one with five goals scored in only six starts. This time around, there is a lot of attacking talent at the club and he has only played 34 minutes, though scored a fine goal at Al-Adalah.

Now, more mature at 24, he has a chance to go to the World Cup and must know that he has to show Renard what he can do, not only in games against Ecuador and the US, but also in the training camp.


Neymar returns as Brazil brush aside South Korea to reach World Cup quarters

Neymar returns as Brazil brush aside South Korea to reach World Cup quarters
Updated 06 December 2022

Neymar returns as Brazil brush aside South Korea to reach World Cup quarters

Neymar returns as Brazil brush aside South Korea to reach World Cup quarters
  • Vinicius Junior opened the scoring inside seven minutes before Neymar added another from the penalty spot to move to 76 goals for his country
  • Richarlison’s brilliant goal made it 3-0 and Lucas Paqueta added another before half-time to leave South Korea shellshocked

DOHA: Neymar returned from injury to help inspire Brazil to a 4-1 victory over South Korea on Monday as the favorites cruised through to the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
The world’s most expensive player had sat out his team’s last two matches with a sprained ankle suffered in their first game in Qatar, a 2-0 win over Serbia.
But he came back for this last-16 tie as Tite’s team clicked into gear and delivered an ominous message to their rivals, at least before easing off in the second half.
Vinicius Junior opened the scoring inside seven minutes before Neymar added another from the penalty spot to move to 76 goals for his country, leaving him just one away from equalling Pele’s all-time record tally.
Richarlison’s brilliant goal made it 3-0 and Lucas Paqueta added another before half-time to leave South Korea shellshocked.
Paik Seung-ho pulled one back but by then Brazil were thinking about Friday’s quarter-final clash with 2018 runners-up Croatia.
The five-time World Cup winners had not scored four goals in a knockout game at the tournament since 1998.
Here they played at times with the joy associated with the Brazilian national team, the players coming together to celebrate each goal by showing off their dance moves and their coach even joining in.
If they finished playing within themselves, their first-half display was superb and a fitting tribute to the great Pele.
The Brazilian legend had said he would watch the game from the Sao Paulo hospital to where he was admitted last week amid ongoing treatment for colon cancer, and supporters in Doha’s Stadium 974 unfurled a banner with a get well soon message to him.
All of it was a chastening experience for Son Heung-min and South Korea, who have still never won a World Cup knockout match outside their own country.
Tite made 10 changes to the Brazil team after rotating his squad for the 1-0 loss to Cameroon which came after qualification for the last 16 had been secured.
Danilo also returned from injury at left-back, while Eder Militao was the only player to keep his place and shifted across to right-back.
With Alisson Becker back in goal and Thiago Silva and Marquinhos playing too, this was Brazil’s first-choice defense but their forward quickly put the tie to bed.
The opener came from their first shot on target in the seventh minute as Raphinha burst away from Kim Jin-su on the right and his ball across goal came to the feet of Vinicius who coolly picked his spot.
They then won a penalty as Richarlison was caught by Jung Woo-young and Neymar duly beat Kim Seung-gyu — his last six goals for Brazil have now all come from the spot.
Alisson was then called into action to tip over a vicious long-range effort from Hwang Hee-chan, but Brazil then scored their third in style just before the half-hour mark.
Richarlison juggled the ball on his head three times just outside the area before laying it off to Marquinhos and then continuing into the box to get on the end of Silva’s pass which he slotted home for his third goal at this World Cup.
Paqueta then got their fourth nine minutes before the break with a first-time finish as he connected with a Vinicius ball held up from the byline.
They could have added more in the second half had they not taken their foot off the pedal, although Raphinha was denied on more than one occasion by the goalkeeper.
Korea though deserve credit for keeping going and they were rewarded inside the final quarter-hour as substitute Paik brought down a headed clearance and sent in a ferocious shot from 25 meters that brushed off Silva to beat Alisson.
The Brazil goalkeeper was then taken off for the final 10 minutes to be replaced by Weverton, while Neymar was also withdrawn with Tite’s mind on Croatia.


Croatia beat Japan on penalties to reach World Cup quarter-finals

Croatia beat Japan on penalties to reach World Cup quarter-finals
Updated 05 December 2022

Croatia beat Japan on penalties to reach World Cup quarter-finals

Croatia beat Japan on penalties to reach World Cup quarter-finals
  • Mario Pasalic struck the winning penalty after Dominik Livakovic had saved three of four Japanese penalties as Croatia won the shoot-out 3-1
  • Ivan Perisic had pulled Croatia level in the 55th minute of normal time following Daizen Maeda’s opener for Japan just before the break

DOHA: Croatia reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup on Monday with a dramatic 3-1 penalty shoot-out win over Japan after a tense last-16 clash ended 1-1.

Mario Pasalic struck the winning penalty to send Croatia through after Dominik Livakovic had saved three of four Japanese penalties.

Ivan Perisic had pulled Croatia level in the 55th minute of normal time following Daizen Maeda’s opener for Japan just before the break.
Croatia now face either Brazil or South Korea in the last eight and continued midfield icon Luka Modric’s stay at his fourth and likely final World Cup.
Japan’s bid to reach the last eight for the first time in their history came to a crushing end after another display of the sort which saw off Spain and Germany on their way to topping Group E.
However they could not claim one more big European scalp in the shape of the 2018 finalists and go home in the second round, as they did four years ago, after having three of their penalties saved.
Japan could easily have been ahead within three minutes when Shogo Taniguchi glanced a header wide from point-blank range, and 10 minutes later Daizen Maeda came close to turning in Junya Ito’s brilliantly placed low ball from the right flank.
In the meantime Perisic had let off a shot from a tight angle which led to a goalmouth scramble, but had Croatia scored they risked the goal being ruled out for what looked like a clear push on Takehiro Tomiyasu.
Bruno Petkovic then wasted a great opportunity in the 25th minute, strolling through almost unopposed onto a long through ball only to dawdle and fail to get a pass off to Andrej Kramaric who was charging into the box.
Kramaric was then too slow to latch on to Perisic’s dangerous flick-on and from there Japan took control, and the lead.
Daichi Kamada had already blasted over after a superb passing move when in the 43rd minute Maeda fired in the opener after Ritsu Doan’s cross was knocked down by Maya Yoshida.
Japan looked the better team and ready to inflict more damage but out of the blue Croatia’s most dangerous player Perisic levelled the scores with a bullet header from Dejan Lovren’s deep cross.
Almost immediately afterwards Wataru Endo responded by having a good strike tipped over the bar by Dominik Livakovic, before Shuichi Gonda pulled off the save of the match to keep out Modric’s beautifully-struck, dripping shot.
Modric was replaced nine minutes into the first half of extra-time in which Japan had the best chance, Kaoru Mitoma’s effort well tipped away by Livakovic.
With penalties drawing close, one final chance fell to Modric’s replacement Lovro Majer, who dragged his shot wide, but his team prevailed in the shoot-out to end the Blue Samurai’s entertaining adventure.


Enrique set Spain players ‘homework’ of 1,000 penalties ahead of World Cup

Enrique set Spain players ‘homework’ of 1,000 penalties ahead of World Cup
Spain's coach Luis Enrique attends a press conference at the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC) in Doha. AFP
Updated 05 December 2022

Enrique set Spain players ‘homework’ of 1,000 penalties ahead of World Cup

Enrique set Spain players ‘homework’ of 1,000 penalties ahead of World Cup
  • “Over a year ago, in one of the Spain camps, I told them they had to get here with at least 1,000 penalties taken,” Enrique said on Monday

DOHA: Spain coach Luis Enrique set each of his players the “homework” of practicing 1,000 penalties ahead of the World Cup, saying he is convinced they are not a lottery.
The 2010 world champions face Morocco in the last 16 on Tuesday, with the threat of extra-time and penalties looming in the knockout phase of the tournament in Qatar.
Spain beat Switzerland on penalties at last year’s Euro 2020 but were eliminated on spot-kicks by Italy in the semifinals.
“Over a year ago, in one of the Spain camps, I told them they had to get here with at least 1,000 penalties taken,” Enrique said on Monday.
“I imagine that they have done their homework. If you wait until getting here to practice penalties... (it won’t be enough).
The Spaniard insisted spot kicks were “not a lottery.”
“It’s a moment of maximum tension, a time to show your nerve, and that you can shoot the penalty in the way you have decided, if you have trained it a thousand times,” he said.
“It says a lot about each player. It’s trainable, manageable, how you manage the tension. It’s increasingly less luck — the goalkeepers have more influence.
“We have a very good goalkeeper, any of the three can do very well in this situation. Every time we finish training I see a lot of players taking penalties.”
The Spain coach also responded to criticism over the team’s style of play — their commitment to playing out from defense sometimes puts them under pressure in dangerous areas.
Japan earned a shock 2-1 win over Spain, with their first goal coming after the European team lost the ball on the edge of their box and Ritsu Doan slammed home.
“Every team has their weapons,” said Enrique. “We want to get the ball in the best way possible to the forward,“ 
“If we have to hit a long ball, we’ll hit it. The interpretation has to be done on the pitch.”
He said he did not agree with Spain’s critics.
“It doesn’t make sense to say that against Japan if we hoofed it away to clear our lines we wouldn’t have let in the first goal,” he said.
“We also wouldn’t have scored any goals if we kept kicking it long. We will keep playing the ball out from the back, it’s what we want.”
Enrique confirmed that Cesar Azpilicueta had recovered from his knock against Japan and all 26 players would be fit to train on Monday evening ahead of the game.


Morocco out to make history in crunch World Cup game with Spain

Morocco out to make history in crunch World Cup game with Spain
Updated 05 December 2022

Morocco out to make history in crunch World Cup game with Spain

Morocco out to make history in crunch World Cup game with Spain
  • The Atlas Lions reached last-16 stage in 1986, but progress to the quarter-finals this year will lift them, and Arab football, to new levels

DOHA: Morocco face Spain on Tuesday with a place in the World Cup quarterfinals at stake.

It is surely the biggest game in the country’s history and perhaps the biggest game ever played by an Arab nation. A knockout game against a football superpower on the global stage — this is what dreams are made of. 

There is also no reason to have nightmares. After all, Morocco topped their group with seven points, more than any other Arab nation has ever collected.

This is also a team that has conceded just one goal in seven games under coach Walid Regragui. Even that was an unfortunate own goal in Thursday’s 2-1 victory over Canada.

This is a team that started with a solid draw against Croatia and then deservedly beat Belgium 2-0. Spain thrashed Costa Rica 7-0 but then were held to a draw by Germany and were defeated 2-1 by Japan to finish second.

The Europeans remain favorites but they created little for all their possession against Japan. There is no reason for Morocco to fear Spain. They have already shown they can live with, and beat, some of the best that Europe has to offer.

Morocco are now a force to be reckoned with. They have been here before, winning the group back in 1986 and then losing 1-0 to West Germany, when Lothar Mattheus grabbed the only goal of a hard-fought encounter in Mexico with just two minutes remaining. 

Going one round further this time around would give the present crop of players immortal status.

If they were to make it, a quarterfinal against either Portugal or Switzerland would really get the excitement flowing in North Africa.

They already have the quality. Captain Romain Saiss and Nayef Aguerd have been excellent in the center of the backline. Goalkeeper Yassine Bounou is as solid as they come. The likes of Hakim Ziyech of Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain’s Achraf Hakimi, and Nasser Mazraoui of Bayern Munich, play at the highest club level week in, week out and have started to show their class in this World Cup. 

It is such stars who will need to be at their best against the 2010 champions. A World Cup knockout game will not faze them and they are able to help Morocco get forward quickly and to devastating effect.

Soon, some of their national team mates will be joining them in the UEFA Champions League. Liverpool are reportedly interested in midfielder Sofyan Amrabat who has been one of the standout players of the tournament so far. His current club Fiorentina are big but a move to the elite is on the cards.

Youssef En-Nesyri has also impressed. The Sevilla striker will know the Spanish national team very well. He may also be in line for a move elsewhere in 2023, and there have already been reports of interest from West Ham United.

“We are determined to continue the dream in Qatar with the same will, determination, and perseverance,” the 25-year-old said. “Our focus will be on ourselves, our abilities, and the possibility of presenting a level worthy of the Moroccan national team in order to continue the adventure with success.” 

There is also coach Regragui. The 47-year-old has been in charge for just over three months, succeeding Vahid Halilhodzic. As well as bringing tactical discipline, he has been praised for his motivational skills and bringing together a squad that had looked disunited at times under the former boss. 

It was striking that after the win over Canada sealed top spot, Regragui refused his players’ attempts to throw him in the air before eventually relenting. The message is very much that it is a case of so far, so good but there is still work to do.

While the destination is still unknown, everyone is enjoying the journey. 

“I never dreamed of achieving something for my country,” said Hakimi. “Playing with Morocco is something amazing. To do something big for your country is better than with the club. 

“I am here to help all the Moroccan people. When I was young I saw the last generation that came to the World Cup and I dreamed of being like them.”

It remains to be seen what happens on the pitch but it is clear that Morocco’s fans will win the contest in the stands. They have been one of the loudest, most passionate and numerous groups of supporters at the World Cup. 

Such was the demand for the Spain game that FIFA released an extra 5,000 tickets. There will be ‘home’ advantage and a fantastic atmosphere.

That’s the way it should be. The locals will be supporting them too. At the 2010 World Cup, much of Africa got behind Ghana when the Black Stars were the only team left in the tournament. Now, Morocco are representing the Arab world and history awaits.


Neymar close to World Cup return, England and France set up last-eight showdown

Neymar close to World Cup return, England and France set up last-eight showdown
Brazil's forward Neymar reacts at the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G football match between Cameroon and Brazil. AFP
Updated 05 December 2022

Neymar close to World Cup return, England and France set up last-eight showdown

Neymar close to World Cup return, England and France set up last-eight showdown
  • Superstar forward Neymar has been absent for Brazil since spraining his ankle in his team’s opening Group G win against Serbia last month and their supporters have been sweating on his fitness ever since

DOHA: Neymar could make his return to the World Cup stage on Monday as Brazil continue their bid to be crowned kings for a record-extending sixth time against South Korea.
Superstar forward Neymar has been absent for Brazil since spraining his ankle in his team’s opening Group G win against Serbia last month and their supporters have been sweating on his fitness ever since.
Coach Tite said Neymar would be assessed in Brazil’s final pre-game training session on Sunday, but gave a heavy hint that the Paris Saint-Germain attacker would start.
“He’s going to train this afternoon and if he’s OK, he will play tomorrow,” Tite told reporters.
His return would be a big boost as Brazil have scored just once since Neymar fell foul to his ankle injury and on Saturday lost Arsenal forward Gabriel Jesus for the rest of the World Cup.
South Korea famously reached the semifinals 20 years ago when the tournament was shared between their country and Japan, who are also in action on Monday against Croatia.
The Koreans have not reached the knockout stages since 2010 and only got to the last 16 in Qatar thanks to an injury-time winner from Hwang Hee-chan in their final group game against Portugal.
They will need a different performance to the one in June’s friendly between the two teams, when Brazil romped to a 5-1 victory with Neymar scoring two penalties.
“We have good memories of 2002, of making it to the last four and we want to relive that,” said Korea midfielder Kim Jin-su, who was 10 years old at that time.
“We’ve waited so long to come to this knockout stage and we all truly wanted to come this far.”
Japan veteran Yuto Nagatomo said his side will again show the world their samurai spirit in their clash with unbeaten Croatia, after having already stunned Germany and Spain on their way to topping Group E.
“Before battle, the samurai would polish their weapons and refine their technique, but if they were scared in battle, all that would count for nothing,” the former Inter Milan left-back said Sunday.
“The most important thing is to have courage.”

- Mbappe shines, England cruise -

Kylian Mbappe was the star of the show again for France with a superb brace which sunk Poland 3-1 and gave the world champions a mouthwatering last-eight showdown with England, easy 3-0 winners over Senegal.
Paris Saint-Germain superstar Mbappe rifled home two blistering second-half strikes after his veteran striker partner Olivier Giroud became France’s all-time leading scorer with his 52nd goal for his country just before half-time.
Mbappe called the World Cup his “obsession” after his match-winning performance, which took his tally to a tournament-leading five and also included an assist for Giroud’s record-breaking opener.
“The only objective for me is to win the World Cup,” said the 23-year-old.
“That is what I am dreaming of. I didn’t come here to win the Golden Ball (for best player). That is not why I am here. I am here to win and help the French national team.”
France will face England on Saturday at the Al Bayt Stadium, where Gareth Southgate’s team strolled past Senegal in a performance full of positives, not least the form of teen sensation Jude Bellingham.
Bellingham, 19, set up Jordan Henderson’s opener and the Borussia Dortmund midfielder was involved again when England captain Kane bagged his first goal in this World Cup and overtook Gary Lineker as England’s all-time top scorer in major tournaments.
Bukayo Saka dinked home England’s third in the 57th minute to secure a comfortable win and set up a huge tie with one of the pre-tournament favorites.
“We’ll enjoy this one but then our focus turns to that, it’s going to be a really tough game,” said captain Kane. “They are reigning champions but it’s a good battle.”