Saudi Arabia manager Juan Antonio Pizzi says the “Super Clasico” tournament has been invaluable to his side’s 2019 Asian Cup preparations despite their inability to register a victory in two matches.
The three-time continental champions participated in a four-team friendly event in the Kingdom this past week, losing 2-0 to Brazil in Riyadh on Friday before salvaging a last-gasp 1-1 draw against Iraq on Monday.
Iraq were given the lead by Muhammad Ali midway through the second half at the King Saud University Stadium, meaning the Saudis had to then rely on Abdulaziz Al Bishi scoring deep into injury-time with almost the last kick of the game to avoid defeat.
The high-profile tournament, which also featured Argentina, was designed in part to help Saudi Arabia get ready for the upcoming Asian Cup, which takes place in the UAE from January.
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The 2018 World Cup participants face Qatar, Lebanon and North Korea in Group E and open their campaign against the latter in Al Ain on January 8.
The “Super Clasico” is deemed to have provided an important step on the road to the Emirates. Even in defeat to Brazil, Pizzi’s men played well, while against Iraq the Argentine could give game-time to a large portion of his squad. He made six substitutions in the second half.
"I'm not looking for excuses,” Pizzi said afterwards. “We've made a lot of use of the ‘Super Clasico’, and we understand the mistakes we made before the next Asian Cup.
"The Saudi and Iraqi teams have had two good games in the tournament. We have given the opportunity to a number of players to test their readiness. I am a serious man in my work and I am precise: these qualities will give me the opportunity to work well before the tournament in January.”
Abdulfattah Adam, the emerging Saudi striker who began the encounter up front, said the draw was “not satisfactory for the players”, but added: "We have given excellent levels in the second half of the game, and I hope there will be more progress in future."
The tournament in Saudi Arabia proved worthwhile for Iraq also. The 2007 Asian champions are rebuilding with Srecko Katanec, the former UAE manager, who was appointed only in September. A makeshift side lost 4-0 to Argentina last week, but offered a much-improved performance against the hosts on Monday.
"The draw with Saudi Arabia is a win,” Katanec said. “We played against a team that took part in the last World Cup in Russia, and they made a good match against Brazil.
"We are in the process of preparing for the future. Our goal is to build a team capable of competing in tournaments - at the moment we are preparing the team to participate in the next Asian Cup."
Iraq have been drawn in Group D at the Asian Cup alongside Iran, Vietnam and Yemen.