Juan Antonio Pizzi hoping World Cup ‘feel-good’ factor can inspire Saudi Arabia
Juan Antonio Pizzi wants Saudi Arabia to carry on where they left off at this summer’s World Cup in Russia when they face Bolivia in a friendly in Riyadh on Monday in preparation for the Asian Cup.
In Russia, the Green Falcons recovered from a 5-0 opening game thrashing against the hosts to narrowly lose 1-0 to Uruguay before ending the tournament with a last-minute victory over Egypt, a first win on the global stage since 1994.
“I couldn’t sleep that night after the Russia game and it was a difficult day for all of us,” Pizzi told Saudi television. “I was sad and it was a disaster. The difference between the two teams was not massive on the day, it is just that we made individual mistakes.”
Under the Argentine, the Green Falcons bounced back in the following two games.
“We showed a much better game against Uruguay and the win over Egypt was a joy and that is what we are aiming for as we move to the 2019 Asian Cup, starting now,” he added. “At the World Cup, we showed what we are capable of. We showed character and that we can play football. We have to remember that as we move forward.”
Pizzi took over the reins in November and, after the win over Egypt, was handed an extension until after the Asian Cup in January as Saudi Arabia aim to win the continental competition for the first time since 1996. At the 2019 Asian Cup, to be held in the UAE, the Green Falcons will take on Qatar, Lebanon and North Korea.
Monday’s game against Bolivia marks Pizzi’s 13th game in charge and a chance for win number five.
There were few surprises in the squad named by Pizzi, but veteran striker Mohammad Al-Sahlawi and goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf, who both went to the Russia, did not make the squad selected to take on the South Americans.
“The door is still open for all players,” he insisted. “Those who perform well and show what they can do will always have a chance of being called up. It is all about putting together the right team and squad for the Asian Cup.”
There were two withdrawals from the squad — Al-Ahli center-back Motaz Hawsawi has been struggling for fitness and has been replaced by Al-Shabab’s Abdulaziz Haroon, who could make his debut. Al-Shabab teammate Hattan Bahebri has been allowed to leave the training camp on compassionate grounds after an uncle of the 26-year-old midfielder passed away.
Abdulrahman Al-Aboud may also get a chance to start. The Ettifaq midfielder has been called up for the first time and is looking forward to staking his claim for a place ahead of the Asian Cup.
“I am delighted to be in the training camp and am enjoying it, the coach is very technical and I am always learning. It is great to be here,” Al-Aboud said.
The 23 year-old is looking forward to taking on Bolivia. “They are a good team and will give us the kind of test we need as we prepare for the Asian Cup.”
Bolivia, preparing for the start of qualification for the 2022 World Cup, have brought a strong team to Riyadh that includes Gilbert Alvarez, the striker who joined Saudi side Al-Hazm in August. Coach Cesar Farias is looking forward to the challenge.
“We saw Saudi Arabia at the World Cup. After the first game, they played well, they were well-organized, defended well and worked hard,” Farias said.
Farias, familiar with his opposite number, added: “Pizzi knows how to build a team and took Chile to the Copa America title in 2016. I am sure that Saudi Arabia will be successful with him in charge.”
On Friday, it was confirmed that Saudi Arabia’s next international game will be against Brazil on Oct. 12 at Riyadh’s King Saud University Stadium.