LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s friendly against Peru today is not only the last chance for five players to impress before the final World Cup squad of 23 is named tomorrow, it is the team’s first South American test in almost four years.
The last came in October 2014 when a last-minute strike from Naif Hazazi earned a 1-1 draw with Uruguay in Jeddah. The same team are the Green Falcons’ second opponents in Russia, on June 20, six days after the
opening match against the hosts in Moscow, their final group match is against Egypt on June 25.
“This is a good test for us,” coach Juan Antonio Pizzi said.
“Peru may not play exactly in the same way as Uruguay but it is still good experience for the players.”
The Argentine boss led Chile to the 2016 Copa America title and his knowledge of the continent’s teams may prove useful against a Peru side
preparing for their first World Cup since 1982.
“This is the next step in our preparations and it is a vital one,” said Pizzi, who led Saudi Arabia to victories over Algeria and Greece last month and went on to stress that the side use this match to keep implementing his
tactics ahead of the big kick-off in 11 days’ time.
“The players have been working hard and responding well in training and in games. We want to keep building on that and developing.”
Arab News understands that some of the players who did not feature in the 2-1 defeat against Italy last week will get a final chance to impress the boss. It is especially important for playmaker Nawaf Al-Abed to show he has fully recovered from a lengthy injury.
There is also, however, a feeling that this game, sandwiched between the two glamor friendlies against Italy and Germany, offers an improving Saudi Arabia a chance to collect a good result against a fellow World Cup participant. Whatever happens, heading into the opening game against Russia on the back of three successive defeats would not be ideal.
There may be a more aggressive start in St. Gallen compared to the relatively cautious first half against Italy. There is also the question over whether to start with a recognized striker in the form of Mohannad Aseri or Mohammad Al-Sahlawi, or to play with a more mobile frontline that includes speedy attackers Fahad Al-Muwallad and Yahya Al-Shehri.
Against Italy, Aseri failed to have much impact as the Italians cut off the supply line to the Al-Ahli target man but after his substitution and the introduction of Al-Muwallad, the Green Falcons started to cause problems with their pace.
Veteran midfielder Taisir Al-Jassim is a certain starter in Russia and, regardless of results, is only concerned with using these games to prepare the team as perfectly as possible for June 14.
“This training camp is about getting the team ready physically and technically,” the Al-Ahli man said.
“We can take confidence from the game against Italy and now we need to build on that against Peru and whatever the outcome of the games, they have a purpose which is to continue the team’s development.”
The second-half performance against Italy was encouraging and a continuation of that against a team that arrived in Europe from South America only on Friday, after defeating Scotland 2-0 two days earlier in a final game on home soil, is what Pizzi is looking for.
Peru, who take on France, Denmark and Australia in Group C, have an in-demand Argentine coach of their own in Ricardo Gareca.
“This is the first game in Europe and we need to become accustomed to the conditions,” he said. “We know that Saudi Arabia played well against Italy and this will be a good test.”
The South Americans have been heartened by news that star captain and all-time leading goalscorer Paolo Guerrero had a 14-month ban for cocaine use overturned earlier in the week and will be available for the tournament in Russia.