Arab sides up for Rus­sian rev­o­lu­tion

Hard work starts now for World Cup his­tory-mak­ers but ini­tial signs are good

Arab News - - SPORTS - JOHN DUERDEN

A tough qual­i­fi­ca­tion cam­paign should have tough­ened the side up ahead of the World Cup — a first since 2006. Fin­ish­ing be­tween Ja­pan and Aus­tralia was a bril­liant achieve­ment for the Green Fal­cons and coach Bert van Mar­wijk.

There was some luck in­volved. Six points from the first two games came from three penal­ties — two of them soft — but good teams build upon such for­tu­itous foun­da­tions. Tak­ing 12 points from Thai­land and Iraq, the two weak­est teams in the group, was the key. Ul­ti­mately, Saudi Ara­bia won the games they had to.

The de­par­ture of Van Mar­wijk just days af­ter clinch­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tion was un­for­tu­nate as the Dutch­man was a coach with con­sid­er­able World Cup ex­pe­ri­ence. Re­plac­ing him with Edgardo Bauza, who strug­gled re­cently with Ar­gentina, is a gam­ble. He may bring bet­ter foot­ball but does he have the abil­ity to grind out a re­sult when the pres­sure is on?

There is real tal­ent in the team with the likes of Nawaf Al-Abed, one of the best play­mak­ers in Asia.

Have lit­tle in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence with their play­ers based at home — moves to try and rem­edy may be too late for Rus­sia.

When Mo­hamed Salah lined up a 95th minute penalty against Congo on Oct. 8, he had the weight of al­most 100 mil­lion Egyp­tians on his shoul­ders. It was no prob­lem for the Liver­pool star as he slot­ted home to send the Pharaohs to the World Cup for the first time since 1990.

There have been some play­off heart­breaks in the past and it was per­haps un­der­stand­able that Hec­tor Cu­per was hired as coach in 2015. The Ar­gen­tine fo­cused on mak­ing the team hard to beat and even when the team did taste de­feat, against Uganda, they showed real re­silience to bounce back with two cru­cial vic­to­ries.

Cu­per’s tac­tics have been crit­i­cized but mak­ing the fi­nal of the African Cup of Na­tions ear­lier this year and a place in Rus­sia tell you what you really need to know.

Solid at the back and light­ning on the counter-at­tack, if Egypt can keep their stars fit then it won’t just be their mar­vel­lous fans light­ing up the Rus­sian sum­mer.

Egypt are or­ga­nized, set­tled and hard to beat. In the group stage that can be enough, from there on in who knows, but they shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Salah is dan­ger­ous go­ing for­ward but he needs a lit­tle more sup­port.

They have been danc­ing on the streets of Ra­bat, Mar­rakesh and Casablanca this week­end, a party that has been 20 years in the mak­ing.

The King of Mo­rocco was soon call­ing coach Herve Re­nard. The French­man did not come cheap but has been worth ev­ery dirham.

This is a man with tour­na­ment knowhow in Africa who has won the African Cup of Na­tions with Zam­bia in 2012 and Ivory Coast in 2015.

Un­der the French­man, Mo­rocco have not only im­proved but grown in con­fi­dence, with tall striker Khalid Boutaib emerg­ing as a real hand­ful for op­pos­ing de­fend­ers and a great out­let for a de­fense un­der pres­sure.

Be­ing placed in the same group as the Ivory Coast was al­ways go­ing to present a chal­lenge. But they got to the last game with their des­tiny still in their own hands.

Need­ing only a draw against the Ivo­rians in Abid­jan to go through, Mo­rocco could have been for­given for park­ing the bus but in­stead ended up win­ning 2-0. A great re­sult and dis­play of char­ac­ter which they’ll need to re­peat next sum­mer.

This is a squad packed full of play­ers with in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence and a highly-rated coach who has had plenty of suc­cess in tour­na­ments.

LON­DON: For the first time ever, four Arab teams have made it to the World Cup. Here Arab News runs the rule over the suc­cess­ful quartet.

Re­nard has called for more self-be­lief — if that can be in­stilled then Mo­rocco could sur­prise a few peo­ple next sum­mer.

A first World Cup ap­pear­ance since 2006 came off the back of three wins in the first three games that put the North Africans in a great po­si­tion.

But the most im­pres­sive dis­play came in their fourth match. The Carthage Ea­gles went to the home of their big­gest ri­vals, the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo. There were 80,000 fans wait­ing in Kin­shasa who knew that the win­ners of this game were likely head­ing to Rus­sia.

The hosts took a 2-0 lead. Tu­nisia were up against it but came back to draw 2-2 to take a point and a huge step to­ward the World Cup.

On pa­per they are prob­a­bly the weak­est of the four Arab rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Tu­nisia may not be the most ex­cit­ing team to watch, but they are hard-work­ing and very well or­ga­nized de­fen­sively, as four goals con­ceded in six games sug­gests.

But they are re­silient and have a great team spirit. Now the hard work really starts.

Lack world­class tal­ent in at­tack but the team does like to spread goals around. Their eleven goals were scored by eight play­ers.

A lack of cre­ativ­ity and in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence is a con­cern.

Joy for Tu­nisia af­ter they made the World Cup with a 0-0 draw against Libya. (AFP) A Mo­hamed Salah-in­spired Egypt booked their place last month. (AP) Mo­rocco’s Noured­dine Am­ra­bat was a key man in his side mak­ing it to Rus­sia next sum­mer. (AFP)

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