Six points, six goals and none conceded after the Green Falcons book their place in Asian Cup last-16 following confident 2-0 success over Lebanon
Saudi Arabia maintained their 100-per-cent record at Asian Cup 2019 and eased into the knockouts with an imposing 2-0 win against Lebanon at Al Maktoum Stadium.
Fahad Al Muwallad took advantage of slapstick defending in the 12th minute to lash home and then Housain Al Mogahwi volleyed in on 67 minutes from close range.
A pair of losses for the Cedars, however, makes progression from Group E a distant prospect. Here is the report card:
Good Maatouk is still magic
‘Functional’ is the word you’d use to describe Lebanon upon their Cup return after 19 years away. It is not, however, a phrase you’d impart on Hassan Maatouk.
Sadly for the ex-Arabian Gulf League favourite, his team-mates just aren’t on the same wavelength. This was exemplified when a darting run ended up with striker Hilal El-Helwe screwing wide – a minute later, the Saudis went ahead.
Pizzi has Saudis purring
The portents are ominous for Saudis’ rivals. Two Group E matches and two confident wins. They last achieved this in 1996, also on Emirati soil, when a third – and so far final – Asian Cup was claimed.
This edition is in the embryonic stage, but the Green Falcons and Iran look a cut apart. The former exude confidence across the park.
Al Shabab winger Hattan Bahebri outplayed the celebrated Salem Al Dawsari once again, plus got a delightful first assist in the UAE through his cross for Al Ahli Jeddah’s Al Mogahwi. It’s now two goals in two matches for Al Ittihad’s false No9 Al Muwallad. An apparent area of weakness appears strong.
Bad Radulovic’s immediate job prospects
An unwelcome hat-trick may be completed at Asian Cup 2019.
Milovan Rajevac with Thailand and Bernd Stange at Syria have been sacked after poor early results. Would successive losses for Lebanon – a first for their history at the tournament – lead to Montenegro’s Miodrag Radulovic’s four-year reign coming to a premature end?
A refreshed Lebanon, under new leadership, could thrash North Korea on Thursday and still proceed thanks to the 24-team competition’s new format which rewards the fourbest third-placed finishers…
Saudi defence is up in the air
For a nation with the nickname ‘Green Falcons’, the Saudis have looked noticeably uncomfortable in the air. Han Kwang-son of North Korea ballooned a free header at 1-0 before his side imploded.
Against Lebanon, Al Nasr-owned Joan Oumari and defensive midfielder Felix Michel both wasted opportunities when unmarked from first-half set-pieces. The retirement of 138-cap centre-back Osama Hawsawi is being felt.
Tactical talking point The engine room
Saudi boss Juan Antonio Pizzi is Argentina-born, but seven years in Spanish football – and 22 caps for La Furia Roja – means he is inculcated in his adopted nation’s footballing traditions.
Lebanon tried to use their physicality, in speed through former Arabian Gulf League-favourite Maatouk and size through strapping AFC Eskilstuna anchor man Felix Michel, to unsettle them.
Instead, centre midfielders Abdullah Otayf, Al Mogahwi and Abdulaziz Al Bishi popped the ball around the resplendent, redeveloped Maktoum with impunity in a 4-1-4-1 formation. This trio attempted 223 passes – Lebanon’s entire side recorded 276.
Swooping in: Saudi stars celebrate opener against Lebanon
Joy and despair: Saudi Arabia midfielder Housain Al Mogahwi (c) celebrates after making it 2-0.