Saudi Arabia can make second round, says former Green Falcons technical director Jan Van Winckel

Jan Van Winckel helped get Saudi Arabia to the tournament in Russia.
Updated 13 June 2018
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Saudi Arabia can make second round, says former Green Falcons technical director Jan Van Winckel

  • Former technical director has high hopes for the Green Falcons in Russia.
  • Saudi Arabia placed in Group A and Van Winckel says its one they can get out of.

MOSCOW: When Saudi Arabia and hosts Russia walk out in the curtain raiser of the World Cup on Thursday at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, Jan Van Winckel, the former technical director of the Saudi Football Federation will be a keen observer. The Belgian firmly believes that the Falcons will be competitive in Russia. 
“I think Saudi Arabia have a good chance of reaching the second round,” Van Winckel told Arab News.
“In the two years that Bert van Marwijk, as coach, and I, as technical director, worked in Saudi Arabia, we succeeded in building a great team that was capable of competing with the best teams in the world. Our victory against Japan in the qualifiers demonstrated this.”
Saudi Arabia will be underdogs in Group A at the World Cup. The Falcons are ranked 67th in the world,  second-lowest at the tournament only behind the hosts Russia in 70th, but Van Winckel does not consider those stats a problem.
“Uruguay are the favorites, and they will likely easily qualify for the second round,” the Belgian said.
“It is amazing what Uruguay achieve with a population of fewer than four million people. In contrast, Russia has a rather weak generation of players, and it will be under a lot of pressure to qualify. I think Saudi Arabia and Egypt are at the same level. While Egypt definitely have the advantage of Mohamed Salah, Saudi Arabia can field a good team full of experienced international players.” 
The Saudi Arabia defense will face international stars, heavyweights like Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. Across all sectors of the field, Pizzi’s team lack international exposure. The Saudi Arabia Football Federation and the General Sports Authority tried to mitigate for that by sending players abroad last January and lining up strong opponents in the final warmup matches, including a a valiant 2-1 defeat at the hands of Germany. 
“A country’s football is developed by the clubs,” Van Winckel explained. “Saudi Arabia has one of the best Asian leagues, and it often competes for the Asian Champions League, as Al-Hilal and Al-Ahli did recently. The maximum of three foreign players in Asian competitions can be a problem for Saudi teams, however. The local Saudi players are paid well, so they tend not to be inclined to play abroad, where they could gain experience that they can later bring back to the country. I think it is a good idea to promote European competition to Saudi players, but I think the focus should be on younger players.”
Van Winckel, however, warned against complacency, saying it was a must for Saudi Arabia to establish itself among the top 35-ranked teams in the world.
“You often notice that at successful moments people will rest on the laurels, that there is too little investment in the future and too little innovative thinking,” said Van Winckel.
“This is the trap of success; to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow. You often see this undulation with national teams.”
Today, Van Winckel works in various roles for Belgian club Beerschot and Sheffield United in England. After Saudi Arabia’s World Cup qualification the relationship between the Saudi Arabia Football Federation and Van Marwijk  soured with disputes over a new contract. The 2010 World Cup finalist left and Van Winckel also exited with him. 
“Although we were successful on all levels, the Saudi Football Federation decided to change the entire technical department following the elections,” Van Winckel said.
“The decision of the Saudi Football Federation to not extend Bert’s contract was in line with the overall changes in the technical department.” 


Work still to be done for Egypt's Al-Ahly in quest for African Champions League glory

Updated 23 September 2018
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Work still to be done for Egypt's Al-Ahly in quest for African Champions League glory

  • The Egyptian giants took a step closer to a ninth continental title
  • Attention immediately changed to the first leg against Setif in Cairo on Oct. 2

CAIRO: Al-Ahly coach Patrice Carteron has warned his players against complacency in their forthcoming African Champions League semifinal clash against Setif of Algeria, even though his side swept through with a 4-0 quarterfinal second-leg victory over Guinea’s Horoya in Cairo on Saturday.
The Egyptian giants took a step closer to a ninth continental title with the win against the Guineans after a goalless first leg. From the moment Walid Soliman opened the scoring after 32 minutes at the Al-Salam Stadium, the result was never in doubt as the Reds put in a dominant performance.
Second half goals from Islam Mohareb, Salah Mohsen and Ahmed Fathy confirmed the win.
“It was a good performance, especially as the pitch was poor,” Carteron said. “We are happy to go through but we controlled the game, especially in the second half when we were at our best. We adjusted our offensive strategy at the break and that made a difference.”
Attention immediately changed to the first leg against Setif in Cairo on Oct. 2.
“We know that the game will be very tough as Setif are a strong team but this is the semifinal of the Champions League, you know that any game is going to be tough,” added the Frenchman.
Setif defeated defending champions Wydad Casablanca of Morocco 1-0 on aggregate and will host Al-Ahly in Algeria in the second leg on Oct. 23.
“Setif were the champions in 2014 and we know that we are going to have be at our best if we are going to the final,” said the 48 year-old, who also coached TP Mazembe of Congo to the 2015 title. He is aiming to deliver similar success for Al-Ahly, who last lifted the trophy in 2013.
“When I took the job three months ago, the target was clear: to win the Champions League. That is still the objective and we have taken a big step toward that today.
“Standards in the competition are getting better all the time and results in the quarterfinal show this,” Carteron said, adding that he and his players had taken note of how Mazembe had been knocked out at the last-eight stage.
“Now we are in the semifinal and we have to prepare as well as we can to face Setif. It will be a big challenge but we are looking forward to it.”
Setif reached the semifinal after a 0-0 draw in the second leg in Morocco on Friday to take the tie 1-0 on aggregate following a win on Algerian soil a week earlier.
Goalkeeper Moustapha Zeghba was the star of the show in Casablanca and made a number of fine saves to deny the defending champions.
It was a feather in the cap for coach Rachid Taoussi, a Moroccan who coached Wydad from 2002 to 2003.
“We managed this game very well,” Taoussi said. “We withstood the pressure. It is not easy to keep out such a team, especially with their fans behind them. In the end they had to play long balls and that made it easier for us to defend.”
While Morocco may have lost its sole representative left in the competition, Taoussi is flying the flag for his homeland. “I am proud to be Moroccan. I respect Wydad and the supporters a lot. It’s not easy for anyone to come here and play like we did.
“It is also a demonstration for those who constantly criticize the skills of Moroccan coaches. I’m so happy. That said, the most important thing for us now is to think about going even further in this competition, that is, reaching the final. We have one more step to go; we will give everything until the end.”
The other semifinal sees a third North African team trying to reach the showpiece event as Esperance de Tunis take on Clube Desportivo de Agosto of Angola.