LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s 4-0 victory over North Korea on Tuesday has helped banish the painful memories of the side’s humbling at the hands of Russia in the opening match of the World Cup last year.
That is the message from Juan Antonio Pizzi whose demeanor following the Group E win against the Koreans was in stark contrast to the figure on the touchline in Moscow some six months ago.
Back then the Green Falcons’ coach looked helpless and aghast as his side were thrashed 5-0 by the hosts. While they went on to only narrowly lose 1-0 to Uruguay and then register their first World Cup win for over 20 years with victory over Egypt, the scars of that Russia defeat still remained.
Add in the fact that opening matches of big tournaments always tend to be tight, edgy affairs and any worry Pizzi and Co. may have had before their Asian Cup clash against North Korea would have been well placed.
But having swept past Kim Yong-jun’s team Pizzi was able to breathe a sigh of relief and claim the side’s Russia demons were now firmly in the past.
“After our first loss in the World Cup in 2018, I think the team understood perfectly that they had to do everything, to be organized, to obey orders in order to be a better team,” the coach said.
“I’m personally very happy because normally the first game of the tournament there are nervous moments, especially when we knew Australia lost their opening game (to Jordan), and we didn’t want that to happen to us.”
Having got the first game out of the way, and in some style, Pizzi looked forward to the rest of the tournament, which will see Saudi Arabia face Lebanon on Saturday and then Qatar five days later.
“What was most important was that we implemented our own style of play today. We will follow the same ambition for the coming matches,” the former Spain international said.
“I’m so happy and, hopefully, we will continue with the same level throughout the tournament.”
Having only been at the helm six months before the World Cup kick-off Pizzi is now emphasizing the benefits of having had more time with his players claiming that they are getting better with every match.
“There is no doubt that the time that you spend with a team allows you to gain confidence of the players, but we also noticed our players are ready to learn and ready to do what we ask as technical staff,” the 50-year-old said.
“The have a high commitment, even the new players, and day after day, they became more consistent.”
The victory against North Korea was notable not just for banishing the memories of the Russia defeat but also as the side’s opener, scored by Hatan Bahbri, was the 1,000th goal scored by Saudi Arabia.
It was a goal worthy of such a milestone as he fired in from the left side of the penalty area into the far corner.
It was his first international strike, but while delighted to etch his name into the record books he claimed he was now only focused on the next match against the Cedars in Dubai.
“I am grateful and honored to have got my first international goal which was the 1000th goal in Saudi Arabia’s history,” the 26 year-old said.
“We passed the first test, but have an important match ahead against Lebanon. Lebanon are a strong side and we respect them, but we want to get all three points.
“We will forget this match and focus on giving our best in the second match.”