UAE vs. Saudi Arabia friendly gives both chance to press reset button ahead of World Cup qualifiers

It may just be a friendly but Thursday's match could set the tone for both sides heading into their respective new eras. (AFP)
Updated 21 March 2019

UAE vs. Saudi Arabia friendly gives both chance to press reset button ahead of World Cup qualifiers

  • New era for both the Whites and the Green Falcons after Asian Cup.
  • World Cup qualifiers start in September.

LONDON: That the UAE-Saudi Arabia clash today is a friendly is apt. With Bert van Marwijk now confirmed as the new UAE boss, and in the stands for the clash, the match will be a meeting of old mates.
The Dutchman memorably guided the Green Falcons to last year’s World Cup — their first appearance at the showpiece for 12 years — before contract talks stalled and he left. Now, 18 months on from his exit, Saudi Arabia are again looking for another manager following Juan Antonio Pizzi’s departure after the Asian Cup. And for both sides there is a distinct feeling of limbo.
The Asian Cup promised much for Pizzi’s players. Two comfortable opening wins over North Korea and Lebanon were followed up with defeats to eventual winners Qatar and a second round exit at the hands of Japan. It was the opposite of how their World Cup went. While the team got better with every match in Russia, at the Asian Cup the Green Falcons’ form petered out and utimately they exited with a whimper.
This match is the perfect chance for Salem Al-Dawsari and Co. to recover the form they showed in the latter half of Pizzi’s reign with the World Cup qualifiers set to start in September.
For the UAE there is the same sense of ennui, even with Van Marwijk set to become the new boss. Under Alberto Zaccheroni the Whites played a brand of football that would have challenged a sleeping tablet as a cure for insomnia. Too defensive, too risk averse, it was ultimately no surprise when the hosts failed to win the Asian Cup on home soil at the start of the year.
They may have reached the semifinals, but the UAE failed to inspire confidence, and this clash offers the chance of a fresh start on and off the pitch.
The UAE’s “Golden Generation” ultimately failed to achieve World Cup qualification or Asian Cup success when at least one of them seemed, at one point, like a sure thing. The next year or two will likely see that stable of players slowly ushered out. However, the chance of an early sighting of the young guns that will replace them has been kicked into touch due to the 2020 AFC U-23 Championship qualification commitments of the UAE’s young players. Friday’s Arabian Gulf Cup final also means that interim coach Saleem Abdelrahman will not be able to call on the Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club and Al-Wahda.
Both teams will not be at full strength tonight and it will be hard to read anything into the result. But this match offers up a great chance to press the reset button ahead of World Cup qualifying later this year.


Italy’s Serie A to resume on June 20

Updated 29 May 2020

Italy’s Serie A to resume on June 20

  • ‘Italy has started to return to normal life again, it is only right that football should do the same’

ROME: Italy’s Serie A was given the green light on Thursday to resume on June 20 after a three-month absence as one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic begins to ease restrictions.
Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora said that the government’s Technical and Scientific Committee (CTS) had agreed to the health protocol proposed by Italian football chiefs.
“Italy has started to return to normal life again, it is only right that football should do the same,” said Spadafora.
“The federation assured me that it had a Plan B and a Plan C.
“In light of these considerations, the championship can resume on June 20.”
Italian football federation (FIGC) president Gabriele Gravina told the minister during the video conference that a play-off system would be used if the championship were again interrupted, while the existing standings would be used if it were stopped.
“We had a very useful meeting,” said Spadafora. “From the start, I said that football could restart once all the security conditions had been met.”
No top-flight matches in Italy have been played since Sassuolo beat Brescia 3-0 on March 9.
One of the hardest hit countries by the coronavirus pandemic with over 33,000 deaths, Italian football now faces a scheduling nightmare, for matches which will take place behind closed doors.
Lega Serie A will meet on Friday morning to examine “the different calendar hypotheses” for the remaining Serie A and Italian Cup matches, amounting to 127 in total.
Most teams have 12 league games left to play, but there were four postponed fixtures.
Spadafora suggested that the Italian Cup could be concluded the week before the return to Serie A action.
The semifinal return leg matches between Inter Milan and Napoli and AC Milan and Juventus, could be played on June 13-14 with the final on June 17.
“I also hope to be able to send a positive signal to the whole country by taking advantage of the week from June 13 to 20 to conclude the Italian Cup,” he added.
The announcement of the resumption of the Italian league comes just after the English Premier League confirmed it will restart on June 17.
The German championship has already resumed and Spain’s La Liga will return to the pitch the week of June 8.
Among the five major European championships, only the French Ligue 1 has been definitively stopped.
“I’m happy and satisfied,” said Gravina. “The restart of football represents a message of hope for the whole country.”
But many issues remain to be resolved including match schedules, players’ contracts which end on June 30, and unpaid TV rights by broadcasters.
“Footballers are not robots, there are concerns,” said Damiano Tommasi, president of the players’ union.
“A critical issue is (playing a) match at 4.30pm which in June and July in Italy is unthinkable,” added the former Italy and Roma player.
The thorniest issue remains the two-week quarantine period in the case of a positive test, which Spadafora insisted would remain.
“The CTS agreed with the medical protocol, but confirmed the absolute necessity for a quarantine period if a player were to test positive,” said Spadafora, who did not exclude future changes to the rule.
“I’m ready to bet on the resumption of the championship, but with this rule of quarantine of 14 days, the possibilities of concluding it are not high,” said Enrico Castellacci, president of the Italian Football Doctors Association.
“It’s a crime. I’m not going to quarantine 50 healthy people. We don’t do this if there is a positive case in a factory,” argued Lazio doctor Ivo Pulcini, with the Roman club committed to a resumption of the season, as they sit just one point behind leaders Juventus.