FIFA World Cup 2018: Saudi Arabia preview
Saudi Arabia’s victory over Greece was the Green Falcons’ third in six matches under new manager Juan Antonio Pizzi. The Argentinian is the third Saudi Arabia coach in less than a year, following Bert van Marwijk – who led the Arabians to FIFA World Cup 2018 qualification – and Edgardo Bauza – who replaced van Marwijk but lasted only two months.
Despite the fact that Green Falcons are the lowest ranked team (no.70) of the 32 Russia 2018 finalists, they still have an interesting roster featuring some good footballers. Three of them – Fahad Al-Muwallad, Salem Al Dawsari and Yahya Al-Shehri – have been part of the core of nine players that Saudi Federation sent on loan to La Liga last January in order to gain experience at a higher level. This movement didn’t work as these guys never played but they still gained some needed experience practising with Spanish clubs.
In front of goalkeeper, Al Mosailem, Pizzi should line up a four-man backline featuring the team’s captain Osama Hawsawi and Omar Hawsawi as centre-backs. Yasser Al-Shahrani of Al Hilal and Al Ahli’s Mansoor Al-Harbi should be start as full-backs while Abdullah Otayf (Al Hilal) and Taiseer Al-Jassim (Al Ahli) should be the starting duo in the middle of the pitch.
On the flanks, Pizzi could start the competition with Levante’s Al-Muwallad on the right-side and with Al-Dawsari (Villarreal) on the left. They are different players with Al-Muwallad being more an attacking winger whilst Al-Dawsari is more a midfielder.
Another ‘Spaniard’, Al-Shehri of Leganes, will assume the attacking midfielder spot, playing just behind the lone forward Mohammed Al Sahlawi of Al Nassr, who scored 16 goals in 14 games thought the World Cup qualification campaign.
The 27-year-old Al-Shehri is probably the most gifted player at Pizzi’s disposal. Starting as a no.10, the former Al Nassr’s starter has the licence to roam all around the offensive third of the field, moving himself through the middle and the half-spaces too.
Al-Shehri is the key part into Pizzi’s projected 4-2-3-1 line up. By the way, former Chile’s head coach could also line up his side in a more cautious 4-3-3 formation featuring three central midfielders with Al-Shehri moved out wide on the right flanks, from which he can drift inside.
From a tactical point of view, Saudi Arabia will try to build from the back, also because they are not physically strong. But it could be tough to do it at a so high level as World Cup is. That said, the Green Falcons are a gifted team with a lot of technically good players that will try to dominate the game through ball possession. Otherwise, Saudi Arabians could struggle should they be forced to defend with a low block in their own territory.
By: Michele Tossani (totalfootballanalysis.com)
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