Green Falcons coach kicks off tenure with 3-0 Moldova victory
DUBAI: Juan Antonio Pizzi believes Saudi Arabia are in good shape as they approach the end of the second phase of their World Cup preparations.
The Green Falcons have been in Jeddah for the past week in a training camp that culminated in a 3-0 friendly victory over Moldova at King Abdullah Sport City Stadium in Jeddah on Monday night.
Goals from Omar Hawsawi and Taisir Al-Jassim had put Saudi Arabia in the driving seat by the hour mark, before a late strike from substitute Mohannad Assiri sealed victory for Pizzi in what was his first game in charge since replacing Edguardo Bauza.
“We achieved our objectives in playing with organization and coherence in addition to getting a good result against Moldova,” said Pizzi. “The training camp delivered great technical benefits which will serve us further along the road, and the performance against Moldova was a testament to that.”
Pizzi fielded his best available side. In the absence of injured Nawaf Al-Abed and trio Fahad Al-Muwallad, Salem Al-Dawsari and Yahya Al-Shehri, who are all tied up with their respective clubs in Spain, Pizzi handed international debuts to winger Mohammed Al-Kuwaikbi and playmaker Abdulwahab Jaafar who both came off the bench at halftime.
Al-Kuwaikbi marked his debut with an assist, supplying a sublime through pass for Assiri’s goal, Saudi’s third of the evening.
The 88th-minute goal was Assiri’s first for the Green Falcons in more than seven years. He last found the back of the net in the national team colors at the 2010 Gulf Cup, scoring his side’s third goal as Saudi Arabia beat the hosts Yemen 4-0. The Al-Ahli man came on for Mohammed Al-Sahlawi on 81 minutes on Monday and made his case for leading the line for the Green Falcons in Russia.
“I was given the chance, and I am happy to take it,” he said. “Now, I just have to work hard and show my worth. The World Cup is every player’s dream, and my objective is to be in the team in Russia. I am hopeful that I can represent Saudi Arabia in the best possible way in the World Cup.”
A notable feature of the game was the team’s attacking display, a complete departure from former coach Edgardo Bauza’s methods which saw the team score just twice in their last 270 minutes under their previous coach. On Monday, the Green Falcons dominated from start to finish, enjoying 72 percent of the possession and registering 18 shots to Moldova’s six.
Hawsawi blasted the ball into the roof of the net just 10 minutes into the game to fire Saudi in front after the Moldovan defense failed to clear Al-Jassim’s corner kick.
Al-Jassim went from architect to executioner 10 minutes after half-time, doubling Saudi Arabia’s lead when he collected a pass from Al-Sahlawi and buried it into the bottom corner from 25 yards out.
The closest the visitors came to scoring was on 65 minutes when Vladimir Ambros outmuscled Hawsawi inside the box and unleashed a left-footed effort from a close range, but goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais was well positioned to parry the strike away.
Al-Sahlawi saw a 74th-minute header from Yasser Al-Shahrani’s cross saved by Serghei Pascenco and that was to be the Al-Nassr man’s last action. His replacement, Assiri, took just seven minutes to make his mark, combining with Al-Kuwaikbi before dinking in his fourth international goal and his first in more than seven years.
The Green Falcons are back in action on Wednesday when they take largely a second-string team to play Iraq in Basra.
Saudi Mohammed Al-Owais; Yasser Al-Shahrani, Osama Hawsawi (Motaz Hawsawi 69), Omar Hawsawi, Mansour Al-Harbi; Abdulmalik Al-Khaibari (Ibrahim Ghaleb 46), Abdullah Otayf, Hussein Al-Moqahwi (Mohammed Kanno 46), Taisir Al-Jassim (Abdulwahab Jaafar 75), Salman Al-Moasher (Mohammed Al-Kuwaikbi 46); Mohammed Al-Sahlawi (Mohannad Assiri 81)