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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 July 2018

World Cup: Antonio Pizzi 'really happy' in role as Saudi Arabia manager after consolation win against Egypt

Manager, who will know about future 'over next few days', open to staying on despite exit from tournament in Russia

Saudi Arabia apponited Juan Antonio Pizzi as their manager shortly before the World Cup was to get under way. Damir Sagolj / Reuters
Saudi Arabia apponited Juan Antonio Pizzi as their manager shortly before the World Cup was to get under way. Damir Sagolj / Reuters

Juan Antonio Pizzi expects his future as Saudi Arabia manager to become clearer in the next few days following the team’s elimination from the World Cup, although he reiterated he is happy in the role.

The Gulf state, taking part in the global finals for the first time since 2006, ended a 24-year wait for a tournament win by defeating Egypt 2-1 in Volgograd on Monday in their final Group A assignment.

Already unable to advance to the knockouts, Saudi finished third in the pool having opened with a humbling 5-0 defeat to hosts Russia on June 14 before losing 1-0 to Uruguay five days later.

Appointed last November after qualification for the World Cup was already secure, there have been signs that Pizzi is getting his message across to the players. The team’s next focus will be the Asian Cup, which takes place in the UAE in January.

Saudi are three-time continental champions, although have not won the event in their past five attempts. Last time out, in 2015, they did not make it out of their group.

Asked after the Egypt victory if he will continue with the Saudi side through to the Asian Cup, Pizzi said: “Talking about the future, the association will have to decide what they’re going to do. It doesn’t depend on myself. And we’ll see what happens over the next few days.

“I’d like to reiterate that I and the whole staff is really, really happy with the players and the way they have responded together with the response we have had from the association. But we’ll see what happens.”

Pizzi is Saudi Arabia’s third manager since they sealed a World Cup berth last September, following on from Bert van Marwjik and then Edgardo Bauza. The Argentine, who guided Chile to success at the 2016 Copa America, knows there is no quick solution – at 67th in Fifa world standings Saudi were the second-lowest ranked side in Russia – but feels his team are on the right path.

“We need to keep working. We need to be patient,” Pizzi said. “We need to support the team and we need your support. Nothing can be achieved from one day to another. Everything needs time. And every single process needs learning, needs failures and victories. That’s normal.

“So we need patience, but of course always hoping for improvement and development. Today I would like for the Saudi people to be very happy for the game and I hope they will enjoy our victory.”

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More from 2018 World Cup:

Naser Al Wasmi: Saudi football fans celebrate first win in Russia

Day 12 updates: All the news, previews, features and reports from Russia

Richard Jolly: Uruguay hand Russia a World Cup reality check to top Group A

Ian Hawkey: Nigeria again stand in Argentina's way of World Cup survival

Ronaldo, Pele, Zidane, Figo: Players Messi could follow with early World Cup exit

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By looking at the photo, it looks like Juan Antonio Pizzi has established a relationship with the players. Shaun Botterill / Getty Images
By looking at the photo, it looks like Juan Antonio Pizzi has established a relationship with the players. Shaun Botterill / Getty Images

Pizzi put Saudi’s early exit down primarily to the opening match against Russia, when they were so beaten badly by the home side that they did not register a shot on target. It was an incredibly disappointing result, especially given Saudi were the first Asian representative to be involved in a World Cup curtain-raiser.

“First of all, I must say that we were not expecting the game we saw against Russia,” Pizzi said. “We had different expectations to be honest. There were certain factors we believed we could control. We thought we would be able to adapt without any problems. We were taken by surprise. But I won’t say we had bad luck.

“On the contrary, for us that game was very important. And we said that after the draw: it’s always a privilege to play the first game of a World Cup. Unfortunately things didn’t go as we planned and we weren’t able to react to adversity during the match.

“What we do is try to make the players feel comfortable. I want them to enjoy. I want them to play freely. And we do know that we have certain weaknesses. We know that certain areas are less strong than others.

"But we like what we’re suggesting and we’re very happy. We’re very happy to see they’re executing our plan.”