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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 July 2018

Saudi Arabia determined to prove against Uruguay they belong at the World Cup

Manager Pizzi and his players have come in for criticism for their display against Russia in the opening match

Saudi Arabia manager Juan Antonio Pizzi leads a training session ahead of his side's World Cup Group A match against Uruguay. Khaled Elfiqi / EPA
Saudi Arabia manager Juan Antonio Pizzi leads a training session ahead of his side's World Cup Group A match against Uruguay. Khaled Elfiqi / EPA

Saudi Arabia have vowed to show they deserve to be at the World Cup as they look to rebound from their heavy opening-day defeat when they take on Uruguay on Wednesday.

The Gulf side, the tournament’s second lowest-ranked team, marked their return to the global finals for the first time in 12 years in incredibly disappointing fashion, losing 5-0 loss to hosts Russia in Moscow last Thursday.

As such, Saudi’s chances of progression, however unlikely, hinge on gleaning a result from their second Group A assignment, against Uruguay in Rostov-on-Don.

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More from 2018 World Cup:

John McAuley from Russia: Saudi Arabia v Uruguay talking points

Saudi Arabia's World Cup squad suffer scare as airplane has 'technical failure'

Saudi Arabia's players accused of only giving '5 per cent' in World Cup loss to Russia

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Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi needs a positive performance almost as much as his players, with both parties receiving significant criticism from government and football officials in Saudi Arabia, as well as Saudi supporters. Turki Al Sheikh, the head of the general Sports Authority, was one such critic, although he laid the blame at both his door and that of the players.

Asked about that in the pre-match press briefing on Tuesday, Pizzi said: “I really do not want to comment on what other people say. What I can say is that we are being very critical our ourselves. We are not happy with what we did in our first match.

“I’m the top person in charge here and in our mind we have the priority of trying to turn the tables around. We want to change the impression people have from the opening match. We are fully prepared to do that and we trust our ability play a great match tomorrow.

“We have an opportunity to try and turn around our result so far. And our performance which isn’t really in line with what we had expected and wanted. So we’re going to do our very best to win it to try and reach the same level of quality as our opponent and to demonstrate that we are in a position to play this match and win it.”

The defeat to Russia was Saudi’s second-heaviest at the World Cup, with only the 8-0 defeat to Germany – hosts that year, too - in 2006 a worse result. As group favourites, Uruguay will represent difficult opponents, especially since they arrive at the match on the back of Friday’s last-gasp 1-0 victory against Egypt.

“Undoubtedly tomorrow’s game will be very difficult,” midfielder Taiser Al Jassim said. “We have come out from a very difficult match and we as players have a responsibility towards our supporters and the Saudi people.

“We were not able to rise up to the expectations in the first match, but we hope that we will tomorrow. We were very sad because of the previous match, however tomorrow we have a chance to improve our image and we hope that tomorrow will be much more ready.

“The World Cup is usually is full of unexpected events. Football is full of unexpected events. Hopefully tomorrow we will exert our best efforts to show the Saudi people we are up to the standard expected of us.”

Saudi made headlines again on Monday when an engine on their plane caught fire upon arrival in Rostov-on-Don, although fortunately no one was injured.

“After the event yesterday, you’ve seen the pictures but we really don’t know anything else, we have no further information,” Pizzi said. “But we didn’t feel afraid, there was no panic. We fully trust the pilot and those in charge of the plane.

“So we were cool and calm at all times. Although the pictures do speak for themselves and point towards some emergency. But we certainly didn’t feel uncomfortable. And it certainly will not affect our performance tomorrow."