Harsh World Cup lessons fuelled Saudi Arabia in Asian Cup opener, says Juan Antonio Pizzi

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Harsh lessons taken from Saudi Arabia’s harrowing debut at World Cup 2018 fuelled a 4-0 battering of 10-man North Korea when their 2019 Asian Cup campaign got under way, according to coach Juan Antonio Pizzi.

Goals from Hattan Bahebri, Mohammed Al Fatil, Salem Al Dawsari and Fahad Al Muwallad saw the Green Falcons soar at Rashid Stadium on Tuesday. In-between, Cagliari-owned forward Han Son-kwang was sent off for two yellow cards in eight wild minutes just before the interval.

This emphatic victory in Group E provided a welcome contrast to their bow last summer when hosts Russia inflicted an embarrassing 5-0 humbling in Moscow.

“After the loss we suffered in the first game of the World Cup 2018, the team understood perfectly that they have to do everything, to do their maximum, to be organised and to obey the orders we ask of them to be a better team,” said Pizzi, who is the first tactician to win matches for the Saudis at the aforementioned global and continental competitions.

“It’s possible we might lose against other opponents, but the most important is that this is the way. And this is a plan we will follow in the next phase.”

Ex-Spain and Barcelona striker Pizzi’s charges had to show patience against a condensed North Korea, who started in a narrow 5-4-1 formation.

Al Shabab Riyadh winger Bahebri conjured the opener just before the half-hour mark with a supreme curled shot. The lead was doubled through Al Ahli Jeddah centre-back Al Fetil’s consummate back-heeled volley from a free-kick, prior to Han receiving his marching orders.

After the break, former Villarreal loanee Al Dawsari slotted home and Al Ittihad false 9 Al Muwallad made up for a plethora of misses when he smashed in from close range.

This performance made Pizzi a happy man.

He added: “It was good to start the tournament this way, winning the game and especially with the number of goals we scored. The most important thing was we implemented our own style of play.

“We move forward with the same ambition into the next phase of the tournament.

“I’m very happy personally because normally the first game of a tournament there are nervous moments, especially since we had previous experience in Australia that we lost our first game and we didn’t want that to happen with us.

“But I’m so happy and hopefully we will continue at the same level.”

The Saudis next meet Lebanon on Saturday at Al Maktoum Stadium. North Korea play Qatar a day later at Al Ain’s Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium.

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India bank on sturdy defence ahead of UAE test in the AFC Asian Cup

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The Indian defence will have to be at top of their game

India will be looking to build on their dream start in the Asian Cup – where they stomped four goals past Thailand’s War Elephants – as they take on the formidable hosts on Thursday.

The Blue Tigers are currently on top of Group A, after UAE and Bahrain played out a 1-1 draw.

A win against the UAE – something that would be perceived as an upset – could assure qualification to the round of 16 for India. A point would not do much harm to their chances, either.

We take a look at some of the talking points for the Blue Tigers ahead of this crucial tie-up.

DEFENSIVE DISCIPLINE COMES FIRST

Apart from a lapse of concentration which led to Thailand’s only goal and a mishap by Udanta Singh in the second half that could have led to another strike, the Indian defence put on a flawless show.

Should they manage to pull off an upset over the hosts, the defence will be the focal point of the game.

Pritam Kotal, Sandesh Jhingan, Anas Edathodika and Subhasish Bose deserve credit for their impressive performances. However, it was again manager Stephen Constantine who ensured there was a disciplined set up against the War Elephants.

India have been a deep-defending team throughout the Englishman’s tenure but against Thailand, the Blue Tigers set up a mid-block. This can be seen as a brave approach, but one which could work against them when they face a more organised team like UAE .

Simply put, the defence will be key for India and there is no margin for error.

SUNIL CHHETRI HOLDS KEY

India's forward Sunil Chhetri (R) fights for the ball with Thailand's defender Chalermpong Kerdkaew during the 2019 AFC Asian Cup Group A football game between Thailand and India at the Al Nahyan Stadium stadium in Abu Dhabi on January 6, 2019. (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP) (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

India’s forward Sunil Chhetri (R).

The golden man stepped up at the golden moment against Thailand.

Chhetri – who overtook Lionel Messi and became the second-highest active international goal scorer – was involved in three of the four goals India scored on Sunday.

It should come as no surprise if the Bengaluru forward is the star man against UAE.

The hosts start as favourites, dominating possession and other aspects of the game. This means that India will have to be as prolific as possible with whatever little chances they manage to create.

Whether it’s about creating those chances or finishing them, there’s one man who does it better than anyone else – Chhetri.

His combination with winger Udanta Singh will be crucial in counter attacks – India’s best bet against a dominant team.

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Asian Cup 2019: Class of Saudi Arabia star Salem Al Dawsari finally shows to make him Hero of the Day

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The goals flew in for Saudi Arabia as they opened their Asian Cup campaign with a 4-0 thumping of 10-man North Korea – and rising Al Hilal star Salem Al Dawsari got the pick of them.

At Dubai’s Rashid Stadium, the ex-Villarreal loanee eased his way into the competition. It was one shot and one goal from him, but what a goal.

A feint inside earned space and then a precise finish found the bottom corner. Here, we review the 27-year-old’s display.

STATISTICS

01 – attempts

02 – free-kicks won

57.1% – duel success

79 – total passes

92.4% – pass accuracy

30-SECOND REPORT

After their exploits in making it to the World Cup and then defeating Egypt, thanks to Al Dawsari’s strike, much was expected of the Green Falcons.

They took flight on Tuesday evening at Rashid Stadium against opponents of whom so little was known pre-match.

Winger Hattan Bahebri and centre-back Mohammed Al Fatil struck, prior to Cagliari-owned Han Kwang-song’s second yellow. After the break, Al Dawsari and Al Muwallad completed the rout in Group E.

08 01 hero salem al dawsari

GOT RIGHT

A growing influence

With anchor man Salman Al Faraj out of the tournament through injury and Nawaf Al Abed so unfortunately sidelined throughout this golden period for the Saudis, a space has opened up for Al Dawsari to fill as his nation’s heartbeat.

Against North Korea, only three players made more passes than the new No10 and just two made more accurate forward passes. Impressive statistics for someone, ostensibly, stationed on the right wing.

GOT WRONG

A greater threat

Al Dawsari appeared to be a picture of efficiency against the men from the Hermit kingdom.

He attempted only one shot throughout the entire match, and it went in. Impressive stuff.

This picture becomes less rosy when you see that Al Dawsari led the way for the Saudis with 17 lost balls.

The onus on him was to make things happen against a stacked defence. But this job must be pulled off with greater care.

KEY MOMENT

70th min GOAL: The Saudis bring the ball forward, with haste, from the back. It’s eventually worked inside for the loitering Al Dawsari. Ri Un-chol is made to look a fool with a cut back inside the penalty box and then the ball bobbles into the far corner, with the minimum of fuss.

VERDICT: 7/10

This was surely an exhibition of a player working his way into the competition.

Al Dawsari oozes class and confidence. The fact he lost the ball so many times can be seen as a player given licence to try things by head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi.

More time on the pitch in the UAE should generate grander performances as the competition goes. Al Dawsari will hope his team reside across the border for the duration.

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