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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Pizzi encouraged for Saudi Arabia's World Cup hopes after 'useful experience' against Germany

The Green Falcons may have lost 2-1 to the world champions on Friday in Leverkusen but their display gives their manager confidence ahead of Group A opener with Russia on Friday

They were beaten in Leverkusen by Germany but Saudi Arabia could take heart from their performance. Leon Kuegeler / AFP
They were beaten in Leverkusen by Germany but Saudi Arabia could take heart from their performance. Leon Kuegeler / AFP

If ever there was such a thing as a morale-boosting defeat, this was it.

Saudi Arabia wrapped up their World Cup preparations with a 2-1 loss to Germany in Leverkusen on Friday, but having outplayed the world champions for periods of the second-half, Juan Antonio Pizzi says his side can take great belief going into the tournament’s opening match on Thursday against hosts Russia.

“I am satisfied totally with the performance,” Pizzi said. “Don’t forget Germany are the No 1 ranked team in the world, the reigning world champions, and have been one of the game’s protagonists for the past 10-15 years.

"We are talking about a team that consistently plays at a very high level. This was a very powerful and useful experience for us. We are well prepared for Russia, so now we just need to wait.”

The Green Falcons started their final preparation match fully aware that the last time the two sides met, at the 2002 World Cup, they were on the wrong side of an 8-0 loss. On Friday, they played with fear and showed too much respect, allowing Germany’s frontline of Timo Werner, Marco Reus, Julian Draxler and Thomas Muller to toy with them.

When Werner, the Red Bull Leipzig forward, opened the scoring in the eighth minute, it looked like Joachim Low’s side could comfortably replicate the previous scoreline.

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Reus and Sami Khedira both hit the post and Germany had the ball in the net twice more only to see both ruled offside.

Yet as Saudi settled, they also carried a threat going forward, despite playing without a recognised striker.

Forward Mohamed Al-Sahlawi had been dropped to the bench in place of winger Fahad Al Muwallad and the pace of the former Levante flyer and his teammate Salem Al Dawsari gave the opposition problems.

Al Muwallad twice had decent chances to equalise, before Muller sprung onto to a Werner cross four minutes before half-time, forcing Omar Hawsawi to turn the ball into his own net and double the home side’s advantage.

“Some parts of game we dominated the play, other times they were much better,” said Pizzi, who at half-time urged his team to just enjoy the experience and play without fear. “We had some good chances, especially in the second half.”

Taiseer Al Jassam scores for Saudi Arabia. Sascha Steinbach / EPA
Taiseer Al Jassam scores for Saudi Arabia. Sascha Steinbach / EPA

Indeed, with both sides making wholesale changes throughout the second period, the rhythm of the game was lost.

And it was to the benefit of the Gulf side. Al Dawsari showed good feet to hold off Khedira and Hummels before dragging his shot wide of the far post; Yahya Al Shehri fired a looping effort over the crossbar; and Tayser Al Jassem connected play well in the middle of the field.

At the other end, goalkeeper Abdullah Al Mayouf — a surprise inclusion given his shaky performance in last week’s 3-0 defeat to Peru — grew in stature, saving well from Muller and Draxler before thwarting substitute Ilkay Gundogan when he looked sure to score. Then, in the 84th minute, Al Jassem tripped over Khedira’s leg to claim a penalty.

Al Sahlawi, introduced to little effect for Al Muwallad, saw his tame penalty saved, but Al Jassem reacted quickest to smash home the rebound. In added time, Al Jassem beat Germany’s offside trap and laid off Al Sahlawi just yards from goal, but the Al Nassr striker allowed the ball to roll past him and the chance evaporated.

Saudi Arabia's manager Juan Antonio Pizzi. Ronald Wittek / EPA
Saudi Arabia's manager Juan Antonio Pizzi. Ronald Wittek / EPA

It is now exactly one year since he last scored an international goal and must surely have lost his place for Thursday’s curtain-raiser.

Pizzi, asked about the prospect of facing Egypt and Mohamed Salah in their final Group A clash, said he was focusing only on Russia. “We will take it one game at a time,” he said. “We respect all three teams: Russia, Uruguay and Egypt — and do not think Egypt is only Salah, they are a good team with a good manager.

"We are well prepared for Russia though and looking forward to the first match. We have been preparing for it all year and it is now nearly upon us.”

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