‘Nothing is impossible’ says Osama Hawsawi ahead of Saudi Arabia’s World Cup opener against Russia

Juan Antonio Pizzi and his skipper Osama Hawsawi were in relaxed mood in Moscow.
Updated 13 June 2018

‘Nothing is impossible’ says Osama Hawsawi ahead of Saudi Arabia’s World Cup opener against Russia

  • Coach and caption in relaxed, confident mood ahead of Moscow opener.
  • Squad excited to play against hosts and get their campaign started.

MOSCOW: Ambitious, excited and intent on victory. Coach Juan Antonio Pizzi has the perfect plan to lead Saudi Arabia to three points in the opening game of the World Cup against hosts Russia this evening at Luzhniki Stadium: Capitalize on their opponent’s weaknesses, control their strengths, and enjoy the experience.
On the eve of Saudi Arabia’s first World Cup match since 2006, the Argentine said his inexperienced side are feeling confident as they prepare to face a Russia team under intense pressure to perform. Since the World Cup was first held in 1930, a host nation has never lost the opening match, but Pizzi’s team arrived in Moscow with one objective: Victory.
“I am extremely excited to play the opening match,” said Pizzi, who is coaching at the World Cup for the first time.
“There are very few opportunities in life to live this type of event. We have been the chosen ones. We have great enthusiasm and want to do our best, give our everything to try to satisfy and make Saudi citizens happy. I’m sure that will be the case. Our ambition is to beat Russia.”
After two months in which he has managed to keep his squad largely out of the limelight with training camps in southern Spain and rural Switzerland, Pizzi was yesterday called upon by FIFA to address the world’s media alongside captain Osama Hawsawi ahead of the much-anticipated curtain-raiser. 
Speaking in rapid Spanish, the 50-year-old described his football philosophy, discussed his plans to combat his opponent’s game-plan, and dismissed suggestions external pressure will impact the match. The team, he said, is focusing completely and absolutely on the first game and nothing else.
“My style is that of competing,” said Pizzi. “We want to compete for every single ball, tackle every situation on the pitch, and try to have a winning style. We want to be better physically, tactically, and in terms of technique. We want to be the best. I am in favor of being under the spotlight. That is what I have always tried to do as a manager and that is what I am trying to convey to my players.
“We are super-focused and believe that the only way we can achieve success is to really focus on each of the matches that we have to play.
“So, right now, the only thing on my mind is the match against Russia. For now, that is the most difficult game we are going to face at this World Cup. We know perfectly well how Russia is going to play against us. We will try to capitalize; to exploit their shortcomings and use all our tools to counteract their virtues, of which there are many.”
Hawsawi, the veteran center-back who has benefitted from Pizzi’s emphasis on fitness, said he and his teammates are living a dream. Before addressing the media, the 34-year-old Al-Hilal defender took a moment to savour the cauldron-like Luzhniki Stadium, taking selfies and videos from the pitch. 
 “Every player in the world wishes to play in the World Cup,” said Hawsawi, who will lead his country out in front of 81,000 fans this evening.
“We have to do our best and progressing to the next stage is not impossible.
“There are so many unpredictable things that can happen at a World Cup. We are focused now on the opening game and that will set the tone for the other matches. We are playing the hosts and are very ambitious. Like all the squads, we want to qualify for the finals if we can. Nothing is impossible.”

Underdogs with bite and sloppy South Korea: What we learned from the Asian Cup second round

Updated 23 January 2019

Underdogs with bite and sloppy South Korea: What we learned from the Asian Cup second round

  • Can the mighty minnows continue impressive run in the UAE?
  • Or will the big guns start to fire in quarterfinals?

LONDON: Asia’s biggest sporting spectacle has reached its quarterfinal stage — and it’s time for teams to find their A-game. While there are few surprises in the last-eight lineup, the form of some of the big-name sides has been less than impressive. Here we deliver our verdict on the second round.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT — Saudi Arabia’s attack

The Green Falcons started the tournament at top speed. They came in as one of the cup favorites and in their opening two matches illustrated why. A 4-0 thrashing of North Korea was backed up with a relatively simple 2-0 victory over Lebanon. Understandably, that raised hopes that Juan Antonio Pizzi’s men could go all the way in the UAE. Alas, it was not to be as a 2-0 defeat to Qatar in their last group clash left them with a tricky tie against Japan. For all their efforts Saudi Arabia were unable to find the back of the net, the lack of firepower upfront costing Pizzi’s team yet again.

BIGGEST SHOCK — South Korean sloppiness

Boosted by the arrival of Tottenham star Son Heung-Min, South Korea were rightly declared the pre-tournament favorites. They had firepower up front, intelligence and creativity in midfield, and experience at the back. In the four matches in the UAE so far, however, they have looked anything but potential champions. They labored to beat Kyrgyzstan, the Philippines and China in the group stage before almost being shocked by part-timers Bahrain in the second round. South Korea now face Qatar in the last eight and, as Son said after their extra-time win over Bahrain, they need to significantly improve if they are to avoid a shock exit before the semis.

UNDER PRESSURE — Alberto Zaccheroni and the UAE

The Whites owe their place in the last eight to luck more than skill. In some ways that is not a surprise — the hosts came into the tournament without their talisman, the injured Omar Abdulrahman, and on the back of a patchy run of form. But, still, the performances on home soil have been underwhelming to say the least. That was summed up with their extra-time win over Kyrgyzstan, who were playing in their first Asian Cup. It was a far-from-convincing performance and Central Asians were unlucky not to beat Zaccheroni’s side. The UAE will have to deliver their best performance for some time if they are to progress further. Their opponents, Australia, have also performed poorly, which may offer them some encouragement.

BEST HIGHLIGHT — The mighty minnows

The big guns have not had it all their own way. That may annoy their fans, but it does show that Asian football is improving. Only a few years ago the idea that Kyrgyzstan, Bahrain and Jordan would look the equals of Australia and Co. would have seemed fanciful. But in the past two weeks the standard shown by the so-called lesser lights has been impressive — and great to watch. Last summer five Asian teams appeared at the World Cup for the first time and it was hoped that showing would act as a springboard for further progress across the continent. On the evidence of the action in the UAE that wish could be coming true.