Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi has warned his players that their Asian Cup history “counts for nothing” heading into the 2019 edition, telling the team they must earn their victories.
North Korea are Saudi Arabia’s first opposition in Dubai on Tuesday, as the Falcons look to get their Group E campaign off to a positive start, ahead of further contests against Lebanon and Qatar.
Saudi Arabia have one of the most successful Asian Cup histories to look back on, with only Japan’s four wins trumping their three titles, and they are expected to ease through the group.
Their past two visits to the final have ended in defeat, though, while their last title success was in 1996.
As such, Pizzi has reminded the current crop that they cannot afford to be arrogant about their country’s history in the Asian Cup, telling them such statistics are meaningless once on the field.
“I respect all teams we will play against,” Pizzi told reporters in his pre-match news conference.
“We know these teams, but history counts for nothing as we have to play each of them and win. If we can’t win then we won’t get the points.
“On Tuesday we need to go out there and win those three points. It’s not going to be easy. There are pros and cons and the job of the strikers is to score goals so that we can win.
“We trust in all our players and they will give their best to ensure we take the three points.”
— #AsianCup2019 (@afcasiancup) 30 December 2018
The 2019 Asian Cup comes less than a year after Saudi Arabia were involved in the World Cup, though they made very little impact, bowing out in the group stage.
Despite such an unimpressive showing on the world stage, North Korea coach Kim Yong-jun is not expecting any less of a tussle from Saudi Arabia.
However, he is convinced his team will put up a good fight, with North Korea aiming to go past the group stage for the first time since 1980.
“This is our first match and it’s a very important one to us,” Kim said. “I cannot predict a result, but I can say that, so far, we have worked hard to be at our best and hopefully that should be good enough for us to prove to our country that we are here to give off our best.
“Our focus is on both attack and defence and it is a good feeling to have all my players up for selection for tomorrow’s [Tuesday] tough game against Saudi Arabia.
“I know it won’t be easy for us, but they [Saudi Arabia] will not have it easy as well.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Saudi Arabia – Fahad Al-Muwallad
The only recognised central striker in Pizzi’s squad, Al-Muwallad will have the pressure of finding the goals for Saudi Arabia. The forward showed flashes of his ability at the World Cup and has been in good form at club level with Al Ittihad this term, scoring seven times in 11 outings after returning from a fruitless loan spell with Levante in LaLiga. He will no doubt be looking to unpredictable winger Ayman Al-Khulaif for support.
North Korea – Han Kwang-song
While captain Ri Myong-guk will be expected to be a safe pair of hands between the posts and Jong Il-gwan shoulders the goalscoring burden, Han will be the one to watch if he gets his chance. The first North Korean to ever play in Serie A, the 20-year-old is considered one of Asia’s most promising young players. The forward has struggled on loan at Perugia from Cagliari this term, but he possesses pace, trickery and tenacity. He will fancy his chances of impressing.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Saudi Arabia beat North Korea 4-1 in their only previous Asian Cup meeting. It was in the group stage of the 2015 edition.
– The Falcons are making their 10th consecutive appearance in the competition, a run which started in 1984.
– North Korea have lost nine of their last 11 games at the Asian Cup (drawing two). The last time they won a game at the tournament was in 1980 against Syria, winning 2-1. That was also the only year they made it out of the group, eventually finishing fourth.
– Saudi Arabia were finalists in six of their first seven Asian Cup participations, winning three of them and finishing runners-up three times. However, they have been knocked out in the group stages in the last two editions.
– The Gulf nation have suffered six defeats in their last seven games at the Asian Cup, as many losses as in their previous 37 matches in the competition.
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