Riyadh: Saudi Arabia showed tremendous resilience to bounce back in the 2018 FIFA World Cup and head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi is hoping that his players carry that form into the international friendly against Bolivia as they kick off their AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 buildup on Monday.
Saudi Arabia suffered a 5-0 defeat to hosts Russia in their FIFA World Cup opener but showed quality in their next two matches, a 1-0 loss to Uruguay and a 2-1 win over Egypt to end their campaign on a high.
Pizzi admitted the defeat to Russia had been a morale-shattering experience for the Green Falcons
“I couldn’t sleep that night after the Russia game and it was a difficult day for all of us,” Pizzi told Saudi media. “I was sad and it was a disaster. The difference between the two teams was not massive on the day, it is just that we made individual mistakes.”
The Argentine, however, was successful in motivating his players for the next two challenges and was rewarded with an extension to his contract, which will see him in charge until the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 on January 5-February 1.
“We showed a much better game against Uruguay and the win over Egypt was a joy and that is what we are aiming for as we move to the AFC Asian Cup, starting now,” he added. “At the World Cup, we showed what we are capable of. We showed character and that we can play football. We have to remember that as we move forward.”
Saudi Arabia will be seeking to win the AFC Asian Cup for the first time since 1996 when, coincidentially, the United Arab Emirates hosted the Continent's premier football tournament.
Saudi Arabia have Qatar, Lebanon and DPR Korea for company in Group E and Pizzi will use the Bolivia friendly to start finalising his squad.
“The door is still open for all players,” the Argentine said. “Those who perform well and show what they can do will always have a chance of being called up. It is all about putting together the right team and squad for the AFC Asian Cup.”
World No 59 Bolivia will provide a good challenge for Saudi Arabia, who are ranked 70, as head coach Cesar Farias has brought a strong squad, including Gilbert Alvarez, the striker who joined Saudi side Al-Hazm in August.
Following Bolivia, Saudi Arabia are scheduled to play South American giants Brazil on October 12.