Lebanon v Saudi Arabia: Juan Antonio Pizzi feeling confident of 2019 Asian Cup success

Saudi Arabia beat North Korea 4-0 last time out, and head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi feels more performances like that could win his team the title.

Saudi Arabia will be hard to beat if it plays as well as it did against North Korea, believes head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi.   -  Getty Images

Juan Antonio Pizzi thinks his Saudi Arabia team could be unstoppable in the 2019 Asian Cup if it manages to consistently reproduce the sort of display that saw it hammer North Korea 4-0 in its opener.

Although Pizzi's men were boosted by the sending off of Han Kwang-song just before half-time, Saudi Arabia was already 2-0 up and well on its way to three points. As such, Saudi Arabia looks well-placed to progress to the knockout phase for the first time since 2007, when it finished runner-up.

Up next on Saturday is a meeting with a Lebanon side which lost 2-0 to Qatar in its opening game, meaning Saudi Arabia should be confident of moving on to six points. But Pizzi is looking even further ahead than that match and potential progression, suggesting Saudi Arabia will get close to winning the trophy provided it plays like it did in its opening game.

"If the team continues at the level that they did against North Korea, it will be difficult for any other nation in the tournament to defeat us," Pizzi said in his pre-match news conference.

'Ready'

"We are ready for [Lebanon], we hope to apply what we planned for in the match. We trust in our abilities and will look to impose our philosophy. I previously said at the beginning of the tournament that every team has its strong points, and I think Lebanon are ready to match our strengths. We know the only way to win is to do our best."

Lebanon was defeated 2-0 by Qatar in its last contest in the competition. Photo: AFP

 

Against Qatar, Lebanon was certainly not swept aside with ease, but it struggled to really threaten its opponent, having just a single shot on target in the entire match. With Saudi Arabia heading into Saturday's game full of confidence, Lebanon will need to be sharper at both ends of the pitch.

Lebanon coach Miodrag Radulovic accepts a lack of experience could be counting against his players, while he also rued their focus, but he is hopeful of a complete transformation on Saturday. "Maybe we don't have experience in such a competition and maybe we lost some concentration and were unlucky against Qatar," he said.

'Everything is possible'

"But now I hope it will be totally different from the start. I hope [on Saturday] we will be serious and disciplined from the first minute to the end of the game. It will be difficult, but everything is possible. I respect Saudi Arabia, but I respect my team, and I believe in the character and quality of my players.

"There's still two games, everything is open, we are going game by game."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Lebanon – Mehdi Khalil

Saudi Arabia showed signs of real slickness in its first game, and it was well worth a 4-0 win. With that in mind, Lebanon goalkeeper Mehdi Khalil can expect a busy day. He made three saves against Qatar, but he will likely need to be even more effective if Saudi Arabia is to be kept at bay.

Saudi Arabia – Hussain Almoqahwi

Several Saudi Arabia players caught the eye against North Korea, but Almoqahwi was arguably the standout. He delivered 12 crosses, completed 93.8 per cent of his 97 passes and 73 of them were in the attacking half. Lebanon cannot be expected to play open, expansive football, so the creative talents of Almoqahwi — who set up the second goal last time out — could be crucial.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- This will be the first encounter at the Asian Cup between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
- Lebanon is looking to avoid successive defeats in the Asian Cup for the first time in its history.
- Saudi Arabia will be looking to win its opening two Asian Cup group games for the first time since 1996 - The last time, it won the competition, eventually defeating the United Arab Emirates on penalties.
- Lebanon has conceded in each of its four Asian Cup matches, letting in nine goals in total (averaging 2.3 goals per game).
- Saudi Arabia kept its first clean sheet in seven Asian Cup group-stage games in its last game against North Korea. Saudi Arabia last secured successive group stage shutouts in the 2000 edition.

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