Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 August 2019

Juan Antonio Pizzi delighted to see Saudi Arabia get Asian Cup campaign off to winning start

Three-time champions put four unanswered goals past 10-man North Korea in Dubai on Tuesday

Saudi Arabia manager Juan Antonio Pizzi was delighted his side began the Asian Cup with victory in their opener against North Korea on Tuesday, ending a run of slow starts to recent major tournaments.

The three-time continental champions kicked off their Group E campaign with a convincing 4-0 win at Dubai’s Rashid Stadium. Their plight was helped somewhat by North Korea, already 2-0 down, playing the entire second half with 10 men.

However, in winning, Saudi Arabia snapped an unwanted sequence since the last Asian Cup, in 2015. Then, they lost their first game in Australia to China and failed to get past the group stages, while at the World Cup this summer – this time with Pizzi in charge – they were humbled 5-0 by hosts Russia in the opener and failed to make the knockout stages.

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

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Appointed in November 2017, Pizzi has been keen to implement an expansive, passing philosophy in his team. That was evident against North Korea, although the South-East Asians offered little in a generally lacklustre performance.

“There’s no doubt that the time you spend with a certain team allows you to get confidence, in yourself and your players as well,” Pizzi said. “But we notice from all the period we spent with the Saudi national team that our players are willing to learn and are ready to do exactly what we ask as a technical staff from them. And they are doing it literally, with very high commitment – even the new, younger players.

“After the loss we suffered in the first game of the 2018 World Cup, the team understood perfectly that they have to do everything, do their maximum, be organised and obey the orders we ask of them to be a better team.

“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.”

Saudi face Lebanon next on Sunday, before rounding off the group against Qatar four days later. The last time the Gulf side won the Asian Cup, in 1996 and the only other time the tournament took place in the UAE, they began with a victory.

“I hope that such coincidence might be repeated,” Pizzi said. “But we have to continue working and now we’re thinking only of the game against Lebanon on the 12th. And I hope we’re going to compete in the same way and to play a good game.”

Updated: January 9, 2019 10:34 AM

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