LONDON: Manchester United star Fred has paid tribute to Saudi Arabia after Brazil beat the Green Falcons 2-0 in Riyadh on Friday.
Goals at the end of each half from Gabriel Jesus and Alex Sandro, with Neymar getting the assist for both, gave the five-time world champions the victory, but the South Americans were made to work hard for the win by a committed Saudi Arabia side.
“Saudi Arabia are a good team as we saw tonight,” Fred said after the clash. “It was a close game and there wasn’t much between us. We saw at the World Cup that Saudi Arabia is not an opponent to take lightly and they pushed us all the way.”
Fred was especially impressed with the Al-Hilal midfield pairing of Salman Al-Faraj and Abdullah Otayf.
“I like the way Saudi Arabia team plays and there are a lot of excellent players in the team. I think the best were No. 7 and 14. Those two are top-class and read the game very well.”
Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi told his players that while he is never happy to lose, his charges acquitted themselves well against one of the best teams in the world. The Green Falcons got themselves into dangerous positions on a number of occasions but struggled to create clear-cut chances.
“The defeat was not satisfactory as we never like to lose but I want to say that the players carried out their tactical instructions very well,” Pizzi, who was appointed 11 months ago, said.
“We played well against a very strong opponent.”
Brazil did not have as many chances as some would expect given the difference in FIFA rankings between the two teams, with the South Americans ranked in third place, 68 spots above their hosts.
“This will be a boost for confidence,” said the Chilean coach.
“One of the biggest jobs for a coach is to instill belief in a squad of players and it was great to see the players go at the Brazil team.”
Brazil started with their big-name stars such as PSG’s Neymar and Barcelona’s Philippe Coutinho but Salem Al-Dawsari believed that his teammates more than held their own.
“Obviously Brazil are a great team,” the Al-Hilal winger said.
“They are the third-ranked team in the world but we gave a good account of ourselves in front of our own fans.”
The most important part, according to the international, was that fans saw a Saudi team discovering its identity.
“We played as Saudi Arabia,” he said. “We were not just focused on stopping them playing but we tried to play our own game. We lost to a better team but we gave it our all.”
The game ended on something of a sour note as goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais, who had made a number of fine saves to deny Neymar and others, was sent off with five minutes remaining. The Al-Ahli shotstopper was somewhat harshly adjudged to have handled a shot from Everton’s Richarlison outside the area.
Now the focus turns to a meeting with Iraq tomorrow. The Lions of Mesopotamia lost 4-0 to Argentina on Thursday in the first match of the four-nation tournament. The clash should give Pizzi a very good idea of where Saudi Arabia are ahead of January’s important Asian Cup.
“The game with Iraq will be different,” Hussein Abdulghani said.
“We are more similar in terms of our level and it should be a good game. We want to give our fans a great display to say thank you for their support against Brazil, which was fantastic,” added the 41-year-old veteran defender.
Brazil go on to play South American rivals Argentina in Jeddah on Tuesday. “We have a big game coming up,” said Brazil coach Tite. “That is why it was good to have a test that Saudi Arabia gave us. It was a hard game and it is exactly what we needed.”