Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi admitted that his team has defensive issues after the Green Falcons threw away a 2-0 lead against Bolivia to draw 2-2 in Monday’s friendly in Riyadh.
There were promising signs for fans of the Green Falcons in the side’s first match since this summer’s World Cup as Yehya Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari put the hosts ahead and in control inside the first 10 minutes but
Bolivia earned a share of the spoils through a Jhasmani Campos strike and a late penalty from Marcelo Martins.
It was a frustrating evening for fans at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium, who included female supporters for the first time watching the national team. Coach Pizzi had talked of carrying on from the World Cup which may have started with a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Russia but ended on a high thanks to a deserved 2-1 victory over Egypt.
Saudi Arabia had been on course for a comfortable and morale-boosting win against a team ranked 11 places higher in FIFA’s ranking at 59 only for defensive
errors to haunt them. Pizzi was candid about the problems at the back and pledged to do everything possible to solve them by the time the Asian Cup kicks off in January, when the team take on Lebanon, Qatar and North Korea in their group.
“We have conceded a lot of goals since I started with the Saudi team so I think it is fair to say that we have some defensive weaknesses,” said Pizzi, who was appointed last November. The Argentine is ready to head to the training pitch to iron out the flaws.
“The solution to the problem is to work and work and work, and that is what we will do in the coming weeks and months. We will work with the players to increase defensive cohesion and then prepare for the Asian Cup in the best way possible.”
The coach, whose hopes of taking Chile to the World Cup were dealt a huge blow with a defeat to Bolivia in September last year, was keen, however, to point out the positives in the display.
“Overall, the game was generally good. We started well but Bolivia managed to get a goal in the first half that owed a lot to luck and then they scored again late in the game.”
Pizzi called upon his players to return to their clubs and work hard in the Saudi Pro League in the coming weeks and months.
“The players who were called
up in the last camp we had were chosen because they had performed well in the league. I will probably do the same again, so I will be keeping a very close eye on the league. Any player can join the team if he is playing well for his club and is ready for the step.”
Young striker Haroune Camara impressed in his first start for the national team and Fahad Al-
Muwallad and Salem Al-Dawsari also looked sharp in attack.
“Camara was with us at a Spanish training camp before the World Cup though was not at his best at the time,” Pizzi said.
After a fine display at the Asian Games with the Under-23 team, the 20-year-old did enough to earn a place in the squad.
“His performance was convincing and his future looks bright as he develops in the coming period.”
An official at the Saudi Arabia Football Federation shared the general frustration, but pointed out that there is still some time before the Asian Cup next year.
“This is just the first game and the season has just started,” the
official told Arab News.
“A win would have been great, but there were some positive signs especially in attack against a strong South American team. There is still time to go before the Asian Cup and this was just the first game in preparation.”
The Green Falcon’s preparations for the Asian Cup continue in October with a prestige friendly against five-time world champions Brazil in Riyadh. The team will then travel to Amman in November to take on Jordan.