Improved Saudis draw with US as preparations for World Cup continue

Improved Saudis draw with US as preparations for World Cup continue
Saudi Arabia and the US played out a 0-0 draw on Tuesday night. (@SaudiNT)
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Updated 28 September 2022

Improved Saudis draw with US as preparations for World Cup continue

Improved Saudis draw with US as preparations for World Cup continue
  • Concerns over lack of goal-scoring chances persist, with Herve Renard’s injury-hit team failing to find then net for a fourth game in a row

Saudi Arabia drew 0-0 with the USA in Spain on Thursday, delivering a performance that was certainly an improvement over the stalemate with Ecuador four days earlier and probably their best in any of the four friendlies since their successful World Cup qualification campaign concluded.

It is true that they failed to score for a fourth game in a row but the Green Falcons more than held their own against a team that included a number of stars who play in the big European leagues.

Coach Herve Renard had a few reasons to be quietly satisfied with the performance in Murcia, given that in addition to a number of long-term absences, the his team were also without the injured quartet of star player Salem Al-Dawsari, captain Salman Al-Faraj, marauding full-back Yasser Al-Shahrani and goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais, the hero of the 0-0 draw with Ecuador last Friday.

This gave the French boss an opportunity to take a look at some other players in his squad and while it was not the most exciting of games, he will not be too displeased with what he saw.

While the goalless draw with the South Americans four days ago was mainly down to the efforts of Al-Owais, the clean sheet on Tuesday was the result of a solid defensive performance from the whole team, who stayed compact and worked hard to deny the likes of Christian Pulisic of Chelsea clear sight of goal.

The Saudis struggled to get shots on target four days ago but this time, in an almost empty stadium, their first attempt came inside 30 seconds, forcing Arsenal goalkeeper Matt Turner to get down quickly to push away a well-struck snap shot by Sultan Al-Ghannam from outside the area.

This spurred the Americans, who lost 2-0 to Japan on Friday, into action but the Saudi defense coped with the attacks reasonably well, even if there was a threat of the high defensive line being breached.

The men in blue were in control from a possession point of view but struggled to create clear chances, and so it was Saudi Arabia who next had the best sight of goal, just before the half-hour mark, when they were awarded a free-kick in a dangerous position just outside the area, only for Hattan Bahebri to fire over.

Minutes later, the Greens should have taken the lead from the best chance of the game for either side. Firas Al-Buraikan won possession on the right side and found Haitham Asiri, who was not long on the pitch after replacing Sami Al-Najei. He reached the byline and found Bahebri on the edge of the six-yard box, where the Al-Shabab forward had a chance to shoot but instead opted to pass and the Americans were able to clear the danger.

All in all, it was a solid first half, with the USA, who are preparing for their first World Cup appearance since 2014, having 50 percent more of the possession than Saudi Arabia but, in terms of quality and quantity of chances, the Asian team were more than holding their own.

Renard’s men made a bright start to the second half as they looked for chances down the left, with Saud Abdulhamid and Bahebri in particular working hard. But despite balls being whipped into the area there was nobody in the middle to get on the end of the crosses and when the attacking moves came from central areas, the final ball was not quite there.

Still, as the game reached the hour mark, Saudi Arabia were just about on top against a team growing increasingly frustrated at their inability not only to score but to create clear chances.

Then the 2002 quarter-finalists had their best opportunity. Jesus Ferreira took advantage of a defensive mix-up to shoot from just inside the area, only for Mohammed Al-Yami, who did not have many saves to make, to get down quickly and smother the danger.

With 20 minutes remaining, it was Turner’s turn to push away a well-struck shot from Asiri. The Saudis continued to attack but could not quite find a way through. There was more frustration when centre-back Abdulelah Al-Amri’s close-range header from a corner went high.

Saudi Arabia continued to make most of the running in an attacking sense but were unable to capitalize and their disappointment was complete when Nawaf Al-Abed fired over from the edge of the area in the final moments when he had options to pass.

The dry spell in front of goal has now stretched to 385 minutes and is certainly a major cause for concern. However, with the big games in Qatar against Argentina, Poland and Mexico only two months away, there were also some signs of improvement.


Bounou back as Morocco eye World Cup last 16

Bounou back as Morocco eye World Cup last 16
Morocco's goalkeeper Yassine Bounou holds the ball during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group F football match against Croatia. AFP
Updated 01 December 2022

Bounou back as Morocco eye World Cup last 16

Bounou back as Morocco eye World Cup last 16
  • Regragui brings back goalkeeper Yassine Bounou following his absence from Sunday’s win over Belgium in Group F

DOHA: Morocco coach Walid Regragui made two changes to his starting line-up as his team bid to clinch their place in the World Cup last 16 against already-eliminated Canada on Thursday.
Regragui brings back goalkeeper Yassine Bounou following his absence from Sunday’s win over Belgium in Group F.
He has also made an attacking change in midfield, with Abdelhamid Sabiri coming in for Selim Amallah.
Canada coach John Herdman has made four changes for his team’s final game of the tournament following defeats to Belgium and Croatia.
Mark-Anthony Kaye comes into midfield for his first start of the tournament while Sam Adekugbe, Junior Hoilett and Jonathan Osorio have also been named in the starting line-up.
Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies has been pushed into a more advanced role as Canada aim to thwart Morocco’s qualification bid at the Al Thumama Stadium.
Morocco, who are second in Group F with four points, need only a draw to be assured of a place in the knockout rounds.
Teams:
Canada (3-4-3)
Milan Borjan; Alistair Johnston, Kamal Miller, Steven Vitoria; Sam Adekugbe, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Jonathan Osorio, Junior Hoilett; Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Tajon Buchanan
Coach: John Herdman (ENG)
Morocco (4-3-3)
Yassine Bounou; Achraf Hakimi, Nayef Aguerd, Romain Saiss (capt), Noussair Mazraoui; Sofyan Amrabat, Azzedine Ounahi, Abdelhamid Sabiri; Youssef En-Nesyri, Sofiane Boufal, Hakim Ziyech
Coach: Walid Regragui (MAR)
Referee: Raphael Claus (BRA)


I couldn’t sleep over World Cup injury fear: Pepe

I couldn’t sleep over World Cup injury fear: Pepe
Portugal's defender Pepe (front) kicks the ball in front of Uruguay's forward Darwin Nunez during the Qatar World Cup. AFP
Updated 01 December 2022

I couldn’t sleep over World Cup injury fear: Pepe

I couldn’t sleep over World Cup injury fear: Pepe
  • Pepe suffered a knee sprain in early October and made his return as a substitute for his club Porto in their final match before the World Cup on November 12
  • “I can’t say if it’s the last World Cup that I will play,” said Pepe

DOHA: Veteran Portugal defender Pepe admitted on Thursday he lost sleep before the World Cup because he was worried he would miss the tournament through injury.
The 39-year-old became the third-oldest outfield player to feature at a World Cup on Monday, starting for the first time in almost two months in the 2-0 win over Uruguay.
Pepe suffered a knee sprain in early October and made his return as a substitute for his club Porto in their final match before the World Cup on November 12.
“When I had the injury, I couldn’t sleep to be honest,” Pepe told a press conference, a day before his team play South Korea in their final Group H match.
“I couldn’t sleep because I wanted to recover as soon as possible and play in another World Cup, to contribute to my national team, to achieve victory.
“So the journey seemed very long, but it is now over.
“I have to look ahead, to look forward with objective of doing the best I can to secure a win.”
Portugal have already qualified for the last 16 but can guarantee top spot if they win or draw against South Korea on Friday.
Danilo Pereira started at center-back alongside Ruben Dias in the first game but fractured three ribs in training, allowing Pepe to step in and produce a strong display to shut out Uruguay.
He said even after 130 appearances he was still enjoying playing for his country.
“I can’t say if it’s the last World Cup that I will play,” said Pepe.
“I am here to enjoy the tournament. It’s a privilege to do what I love, to play football.”
Portugal have one of the stronger squads at the tournament, featuring Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva.
However, Pepe believes that talent alone will not be enough to earn Portugal their first World Cup trophy.
“We have several ingredients, and if we don’t put all the ingredients together, as our coach has said, (it doesn’t work).
“If we prepare a salad, you can’t have tomato on one side and onion on the other side, you have to put them all together.
“We have a high-quality national team, but unless we work very hard, respect our opponents and do what our coach says, we won’t benefit so much from this quality.”


Belgium drop Eden Hazard for Croatia World Cup clash

Belgium drop Eden Hazard for Croatia World Cup clash
Belgium's forward Eden Hazard attends a press conference at Salwa Beach, southwest of Doha. AFP
Updated 01 December 2022

Belgium drop Eden Hazard for Croatia World Cup clash

Belgium drop Eden Hazard for Croatia World Cup clash
  • The Real Madrid forward was left out of the XI as one of four changes from the team which started the surprise 2-0 defeat by Morocco last weekend

DOHA: Belgium coach Roberto Martinez dropped captain Eden Hazard to the bench for his side’s crucial World Cup game against Croatia on Thursday.
The Real Madrid forward was left out of the XI as one of four changes from the team which started the surprise 2-0 defeat by Morocco last weekend.
The Belgians played down media reports of an altercation between senior players, including Hazard, earlier this week, with Martinez calling the rumors “fake news.”
Belgium have to beat 2018 runners-up Croatia in their final Group F match at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium to be sure of qualification to the last 16.
Martinez also gave in-form Brighton attacker Leandro Trossard and veteran winger Dries Mertens their first starts of the tournament.
Leander Dendoncker replaced the suspended Amadou Onana in midfield.
Striker Romelu Lukaku was again only fit enough for a place on the bench after making a brief substitute appearance against Morocco.
Croatia boss Zlatko Dalic named an unchanged starting line-up after the impressive 4-1 victory over Canada left them only needing to avoid defeat against Belgium to go through.
Morocco take on already-eliminated Canada simultaneously in the other last Group F game, knowing a point would secure a place in the knockout phase for the first time since 1986.
Starting line-ups:
Croatia (4-3-3)
Dominik Livakovic; Josip Juranovic, Dejan Lovren, Josko Gvardiol, Borna Sosa; Mateo Kovacic, Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic; Ivan Perisic, Andrej Kramaric, Marko Livaja
Coach: Zlatko Dalic (CRO)
Belgium (4-3-3)
Thibaut Courtois; Thomas Meunier, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Timothy Castagne; Axel Witsel, Leander Dendoncker, Kevin De Bruyne (capt); Yannick Carrasco, Leandro Trossard, Dries Mertens
Coach: Roberto Martinez (ESP)
Referee: Anthony Taylor (ENG)


Saudi Arabia exits World Cup with newfound confidence

Saudi Arabia exits World Cup with newfound confidence
Updated 01 December 2022

Saudi Arabia exits World Cup with newfound confidence

Saudi Arabia exits World Cup with newfound confidence
  • With Herve Renard motivating the team in his emblematic white shirt on the sidelines, Saudi Arabia proved tough to beat
  • Performance could also help promote a possible joint bid by Saudi Arabia with Egypt and Greece to host the 2030 World Cup

LUSAIL, Qatar: From a generational-defining win over Lionel Messi and Argentina to the recent reports that Cristiano Ronaldo could soon be on his way to play soccer in the kingdom, Saudi Arabia has caused a sensation at the World Cup.
The Green Falcons have nothing to be ashamed about after being eliminated following a 2-1 loss to Mexico on Wednesday.
The second-lowest ranked team in the tournament at No. 51 — one spot behind host Qatar — and ahead of only 61st-ranked Ghana, Saudi Arabia was competitive from start to finish at the first World Cup in the Middle East.
“We did our best. Today it was more difficult for us,” said Hervé Renard, Saudi Arabia’s French coach. “But we don’t have to forget what we did together.”
The Saudis opened with a surprising 2-1 victory over Argentina and also played solidly in a 2-0 loss to Poland before conceding two second-half goals to Mexico to finish last in Group C.
Salem Al-Dawsari, the team’s star No. 10, pulled a goal back in added time, before the Saudi players bent over on the field at the final whistle in prayer and then stood up to applaud their fans.
Strong goalkeeping from Mohammed Al-Owais prevented Mexico from scoring another goal — which could have sent the South Americans through to the round of 16. Instead, it was Argentina and Poland who advanced in the most wide-open group of the tournament.
With Renard motivating the team in his emblematic white shirt on the sidelines, Saudi Arabia proved tough to beat with a team featuring all 26 players based at home.
The fact that none of the Saudis play abroad may have been a surprise factor but the reality is that the country’s best players don’t need to go to Europe for rich contracts when they are paid handsomely in the lucrative Saudi league.
A high-paying contract is exactly what could lure Ronaldo to join six members of the Saudi national team at Al Nassr, one of the country’s leading clubs.
The reports linking Ronaldo with Al Nassr come after the five-time Ballon d’Or winner had his contract terminated by Manchester United.
Saudi-owned Newcastle United is also reportedly in the market for Ronaldo.
But whether Ronaldo goes to a Saudi or Saudi-owned club or not, the country’s national team leaves Qatar with plenty of newfound confidence.
The performance could also help promote a possible joint bid by Saudi Arabia with Egypt and Greece to host the 2030 World Cup.


Indictments requested for Agnelli and others in Juve scandal

Indictments requested for Agnelli and others in Juve scandal
Updated 01 December 2022

Indictments requested for Agnelli and others in Juve scandal

Indictments requested for Agnelli and others in Juve scandal
  • Former vice-president Pavel Nedved and CEO Maurizio Arrivabene are also named
  • A date for the preliminary hearing to decide whether to indict and proceed to trial is expected to be announced in the next week

TURIN, Italy: The Turin prosecutor’s office has requested indictments of former Juventus president Andrea Agnelli, 10 other former board members, and the club following an investigation into alleged false accounting.
Former vice president Pavel Nedved and CEO Maurizio Arrivabene — who left the club on Monday when Agnelli and the entire board of directors resigned — are also named, as is former Juventus director of sport Fabio Paratici, who has moved to Tottenham.
A date for the preliminary hearing to decide whether to indict and proceed to trial is expected to be announced in the next week.
Juventus maintains “the accounting treatment adopted in the contested financial statements falls within those allowed by applicable accounting principles,” and it has drawn that conclusion “on the basis of a solid set of opinions by leading legal and accounting professionals.”
In a lengthy statement issued by the club, it added: “Juventus remain convinced that they have always acted correctly and intend to assert their reasons and defend their corporate, economic and sporting interests in all forums.”
Prosecutors have been investigating since last year whether Juventus cashed in on illegal commissions from transfers and loans of players. The case is also exploring if investors were misled with invoices being issued for non-existent transactions to demonstrate income that in turn could be deemed false accounting.
The case involves player contracts, transfers and agent dealings from 2018-20.
At the start of the pandemic, Juventus said 23 players agreed to reduce their salary for four months to help the club through the crisis. But prosecutors claim the players gave up only one month’s salary.
Turin prosecutors have also apparently discovered more secret payments to former player Cristiano Ronaldo that were not reported by the club.
Juventus are listed on the Milan stock exchange, which also opens it to regulatory scrutiny by the CONSOB watchdog. The club CFO, Stefano Cerrato, was caught on phone taps saying that if CONSOB questioned their moves, they would “razzle-dazzle” the regulators with fancy words, according to leaks to Italian media.
Trading in Juventus shares was flat on Thursday, after a negative 1.16 percent close on Wednesday at 0.2738 euros.