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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Juan Antonio Pizzi's Saudi Arabia bullish ahead of World Cup 2018 opener against Russia

Captain Osama Hawsawi and manager Pizzi talk up Gulf side's ambitions and hopes of making knockout stage

Saudi Arabia believe “nothing is impossible” as they seek to kick-start a first World Cup campaign in 12 years with victory against hosts Russia on Thursday.

The Gulf side, the first Asian country to open a global finals, face the home team in the curtain-raiser at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium looking to capitalise on their opponents’ far-from-perfect preparations.

Saudi come into the match on the back of some promising performances in recent friendlies against Italy and Germany, the world champions. Contesting a World Cup for the first time since 2006, they are fully concentrated on their tussle with Russia, before attention switches to fellow Group A rivals Uruguay and Egypt.

With Uruguay considered heavy favourites to progress, Saudi hope to take one of the two slots that seal a place in the last 16. That makes Thursday’s encounter all the more important.

“We have to do our best and progressing to the next stage is not impossible,” captain Osama Hawsawi said on Wednesday. “There are so many unpredictable things in the World Cup. We are focused now on the opening game and that will set the tone for the other matches.

"We are playing the hosts and are very ambitious. Like all the squads, we want to qualify for the final if we can. Nothing is impossible.”

Juan Antonio Pizzi has worked his team extensively for the tournament, holding five training camps stretching back to late February. They have played nine friendlies since the turn of the year. Pizzi was appointed last November – Saudi’s third manager since booking their place in Russia.

“Obviously we are all very excited,” Hawsawi said. “As players we are very pleased to be participating in the most important event for football in the world. It is our dream. We are very lucky.

"Every player wishes to play in the World Cup and I wish our national team all the success tomorrow.

“We will be following the instruction of coach Pizzi religiously. He has been with us only for a short period, but we are doing our best to follow his instructions and do everything to make our country proud.”

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Pizzi, meanwhile, said his side are targeting victory against a Russia team beset by injury and without a win in seven matches. Until now, a World Cup host nation has never been beaten in the opener.

"On a personal level, I am extremely excited to play the opening match,” Pizzi said. “There are very few opportunities in life to live this type of event. We have been the chosen ones. We're extremely excited and have great enthusiasm in playing this World Cup.

“We want to do our best, give our everything to try to satisfy and make the Saudi citizens happy. I’m sure that will be the case. We want to compete for every single ball, tackle every situation on the pitch, try to have a style of winning, be better than Russia physically, tactically and in terms of technique.

"We want to compete and be the best.

“Each opponent has different options, different alternatives and we have to capitalise on them. With Russia, we are planning to be the protagonists. We know perfectly well how Russia is going to play against us and we are going to use all our tools to counteract their virtues.

“Our ambition is to beat Russia. We will do our best and going forward that will continue, to be completely ambitious and to play and win.”