Naharnet

Football: Pressure on Saudis to Avoid More Embarrassment

Saudi Arabia face Jordan on Thursday at the Asian Cup under a new coach following Jose Peseiro's dismissal after just one game at the tournament, but the new man warned he doesn't have a magic wand.

The Saudis' quest for a fourth Asian Cup title lay in tatters after their embarrassing 2-1 Group B defeat to unfancied Syria in their opening game, with Portuguese Peseiro sacked immediately afterwards.

Experienced veteran Nasser Al Johar has taken over a deflated Saudi Arabian team that desperately needs a victory to get their campaign going.

But Al Johar, who was similarly drafted in at the 2000 Asian Cup when the Saudis fired Milan Macala also after the opening game, was making no bold statements.

"I don't pretend to have a magic wand to change things immediately," he said Wednesday.

"But we will do our best and I have big hopes for the team."

Al Johar will do well to repeat the feat of 2000, when he steered the team to the final, where they lost to Japan.

He was also at the helm during the 2002 World Cup and took over again in 2008 when Helios Dos Anjos was let go, only to resign in February 2009 when the Saudis lost to North Korea in World Cup qualifying.

Al Johar, the man the Saudis seem to call in an emergency, said he felt no pressure, nor were his players shaken by Peseiro's abrupt early tournament dismissal.

"I'm here to serve my homeland and I'm very happy to be serving my country," he said. "I'm confident that I have the ability to improve the team in the coming matches.

"I'm not new to the team or the players -- I've been here for the past 10 years. There's no tension and I'm not tense."

He refused to criticize Peseiro, who was already under intense pressure after failing to get the Saudis to the World Cup, or reveal what changes he would make to the side that was humiliated by Syria on Sunday.

"Of course each coach has his own way of coaching and playing," he said. "Mine are different from Jose Peseiro's."

Outsiders Jordan nearly pulled off one of the shocks of the tournament so far when they led Japan, one of the favorites for Asian Cup glory, until they conceded in injury time to draw 1-1.

That surprise point had lifted the team, said coach Adnan Hamed.

"This Saudi game is very important and will be decisive for the teams after the first round of games," he said of the match at Al-Rayyan Stadium.

"We got a lot of confidence from the Japan game to go further and there's more pressure now, but we hope that pressure can be turned into a positive thing."

If Jordan are to ruffle a few more feathers, they will have to do it without captain and central defender Hatem Aqel.

Aqel was stretchered off after injuring his right knee during a challenge with Japanese skipper Makoto Hasebe.

The other Group B game between Japan and Syria is played on the same day at Qatar Sports Club Stadium.

Source: Agence France Presse


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