World Cup holders Germany have signed off their preparations for this summer’s event with a 2-1 friendly triumph against Saudi Arabia – ending a five-match winless run.
In the absence of controversially cut Manchester City winger Leroy Sane, a tap-in from Timo Werner and own goal from Al Nassr centre-back Omar Hawsawi earned a 2-0 half-time lead.
But the Green Falcons – preparing for a first global tournament since 2006 – remained undaunted. They gained respectability through veteran Al Ahli Jeddah midfielder Taisir Al Jassim’s 84th-minute rebound from Al Nassr striker Mohammad Al Sahlawi’s weak penalty after Juventus midfielder Sami Khedira’s trip on the former.
SO LONG, SANE
The man who’d commanded the most headlines in the build-up was not present at BayArena.
It didn’t take long on Friday for the retained front line of Bayern Munich’s Thomas Muller, Borussia Dortmund’s Marco Reus, Paris Saint-Germain’s Julian Draxler and RB Leipzig’s Werner to end any discussion about PFA Young Player of the Year Sane’s tournament exclusion.
In the first half alone on Friday, Reus – standing in for injured Arsenal playmaker Mesut Ozil – latched onto Bayern right-back Joshua Kimmich’s superb long ball to tee Werner up for a tap-in that earned an eighth goal in 14 internationals.
Reus then played Werner into the clear, his centre being deflected into his own net by sprawled Al Nassr centre-back Omar Hawsawi.
Fluidity that proved beyond the undoubtedly brilliant Sane, in this particular system.
ALL HAIL FLUID FALCONS
The problem that has eaten away at coach Juan Antonio Pizzi’s seven-month reign has received its answer.
With 16-goal joint-global qualifying top scorer Al Sahlawi and fellow centre forward Muhannad Aseri in rotten touch, Saudi’s hopes of extricating themselves from a forgiving Group A appeared hamstrung.
A striker-less solution, that first appeared in May 28’s revitalising second half of the 2-1 defeat at Italy, gained further evidence this weekend. Especially when a late and woeful spot-kick from substitute Al Sahlawi required Al Jassim’s composure on the rebound from Barcelona shot stopper Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s simple save.
With Al Ittihad flyer Fahad Al Muwallad as the peripatetic centre point, the Green Falcons managed to unsettle their esteemed hosts – ranked No1 by FIFA.
Al Muwallad saw a first-half shot go just past Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer’s near post in the first half, while a sharp move on the hour mark ended up with Villarreal loanee Salem Al Dawsari lashing wildly from the edge of the penalty area.
Such vitality on Thursday’s opening night at Luzhniki Stadium could gain ample reward against Russian hosts chastened by awful form, rock-bottom expectations and a defence routed by injury.
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
History hung over this meeting for both teams.
The first World Cup memories for several members of this Saudi squad would be 2002’s 8-0, Miroslav Klose-inspired mauling by Germany.
A 67-place gap in the global rankings would have only increased the fear factor. Yet even amid a 2-1 scoreline, both sides could emerge with credit and hope.
The Green Falcons exorcised the demons from last week’s 3-0 thrashing against Peru, admittedly suffered by a second string. Play like this against Russia, Uruguay and Egypt and 1994’s run to the round of 16 isn’t a pipe dream.
For champions Germany, a low-octane second half produced zero injuries and the alchemy enjoyed by their front line appears promising.
Sunday’s Group F-starter against Mexico should be a sight to behold.
Leading insurers Beazley say security risks will be heightened during the competition and have laid out a series of other high-profile concerns ranging from cyber attack to cancellation and kidnap.
With top transfer fees soaring and clubs ever keen to protect their star players against career-ending injuries, Beazley estimate the maximum cover for a star player at somewhere in the region of £150m.
Beazley also estimate each of the 32 finalists will have insured their respective squads for almost £19million each to guard against the specific threat of kidnap and extortion.
Cover against tournament cancellation, which includes the subsequent loss of television rights and sponsorship opportunities, is reported to be in the region of £1bn.
World football governing body FIFA has said it is fully confident in Russian security measures for the World Cup, with the organisation’s head of security Helmut Spahn declaring himself “extremely satisfied” earlier this week.
Manchester United-bound midfielder Fred’s ankle knock has responded to treatment but he will miss Brazil’s friendly in Austria on Sunday as doubts continue about his World Cup 2018 spot, according to reports.
Fred, 25, was hurt during training on Thursday when tackled from behind by Real Madrid anchorman Casemiro. This challenge has imperiled hopes of making the journey to Russia, with the Canarinha set to open their Group E-campaign against Switzerland on June 17.
Globo Esporte stated the imminent buy for the Red Devils sat out practices on Friday and it has been decided by physios that he will not feature in Vienna for the final warm-up.
The website adds that the ankle is beginning to heal, but it is too early to make long-term forecasts.