Brazil to play Green Falcons as Saudi Arabia host Neymar and Co.
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia hosting Argentina and Brazil in a four-nation tournament in October has been hailed as the best possible preparation for for the 2019 Asian Cup in January for the Green Falcons.
During the next international window, the Green Falcons will face Brazil in Riyadh on October 12, while local fans will get a taste of one of the fiercest and biggest rivalries in world football when the Samba Boys and Argentina meet in Jeddah four days later.
“We have just signed a four-star international tournament in early October with the participation of Brazil, Argentina and the Saudi Arabian team in addition to a fourth team that will be announced soon,” Turki Al-Sheikh, the president of Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority, said on Friday.
The country’s leading sports official wants Egypt to complete the quartet. “As president of the Arab Football Federation, I hope that Egypt will be the fourth team.”
Whether the Pharaohs enter or not, the mini-tournament is good news for fans in Saudi Arabia.
“The most important part is that this gives the team the best kind of test for the Asian Cup,” an official from the Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF) told Arab News.
“We saw at the World Cup that we need as much quality international experience as possible and there can be nothing better than playing Brazil in front of what should be a sell-out crowd in Riyadh.”
Saudi Arabia have reasons to be optimistic ahead of the tournament. Coach Juan Antonio Pizzi is not only from Argentina but he led Chile to the 2016 Copa America title. His knowledge of South American football should provide even more of an advantage to the hosts.
“These are the kinds of games that coach Pizzi wants,” added the official. “We don’t want to arrange games against weaker teams that we can defeat comfortably, we want a real challenge.
?“Not only that, but having Brazil at home gives all players in the league real incentive to try and get into the team and play against some of the best players in the world, such as Neymar. And it is also a great chance for the fans to see the same stars in the flesh.”
Brazil are happy with the arrangement. The five-time world champions had already arranged for the Saudi Arabia test but did not want to travel back to South America to take on Argentina. Staying in Saudi Arabia is also much easier for the Brazil’s European-based players, who will make up an even greater percentage of the squad than usual.
While the Brazilian federation has agreed not to call any players from the four Brazil Cup semifinalists — Flamengo, Corinthians, Palmeiras and Cruzeiro — the SAFF expects both teams to bring all their stars for the trip, though Argentine maestro Lionel Messi is currently on a break from international football.
The tournament also marks another international sporting event in the Kingdom. The GSA have recently organized the Riyadh marathon, the Italian Super Cup final, the Royal Rumble in WWE as well as motorsport events and chess championships. Football remains the most important field however.
“It is commonplace for nations seeking to build a global presence in football to establish new competitions or stage high profile matches,” Simon Chadwick, Professor Sports Enterprise at Salford University in the United Kingdom told Arab News.
“Qatar did it in the run-up to them winning the World Cup vote in 2010, and China has done it recently with a new international tournament. ??“Such initiatives raise profiles, provide an opportunity to prove one’s expertise, and engage key stakeholders in football. As such, we should therefore expect more of the same from Saudi Arabia as the country seeks to become a leading football nation.”
Abdel Ezzat, who resigned as SAFF’s president in August in order to prepare for a run at the presidency of the Asian Football Confederation next year, added: “The country is going through an important change. Football can be a catalyst for change. My country can play an important role in football.
“Football is about growth and if you don’t grow economically, socially, technically, you will not be moving,” Ezzat added. “It’s not enough for us to be in the World Cup.”
Saudi Arabia, who take on North Korea, Lebanon and Qatar at the Asian Cup in January, start preparations for the tournament with another South American test against Bolivia on Monday before traveling to Amman in November for a friendly with Jordan.