Juan Antonio Pizzi says his Saudi Arabia side will do everything to make the country proud in their final 2018 World Cup match against Egypt next week, after confirming their exit with the narrow defeat to Uruguay on Wednesday.
Beaten 5-0 in the tournament opener by hosts Russia, the Saudis rebounded with a much-improved performance in Rostov-on-Don. Despite losing 1-0 to Luis Suarez's first-half goal, they enjoyed the greater share of the possession against the much-fancied South Americans. Rated 14th in the world, Uruguay sit 53 places higher than Saudi Arabia, who are the tournament's second-lowest ranked side.
Saudi Arabia were outdone only by Suarez’s effort, an easy tap-in once Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Al Owais had flapped at Carlos Sanchez’s corner kick. Yet, even though he rued a lack of a cutting edge in his team – Saudi have had three shots on target in total in Russia – Pizzi was still heartened by the commitment shown.
“The difference between this display and the first game was enormous, the change was obvious,” said the Argentine, who took charge last November, after Saudi had secured a first World Cup berth since 2006. “It gives us tranquility for the future for the months ahead.
“We may not have done enough to get the result we wanted, but we had lots of the ball and we circulated it well. We imposed ourselves on the game. The goal we conceded was unfortunate, but we didn’t have the tools they had.
“This is our weakness. We have good ball possession, but no effectiveness. We lack the depth and skill required to win these games. We have looked for solutions, but haven't quite come up with one yet. But this is one of the reasons great forwards are in high demand and are the elite players in world football. We couldn’t equalise, but we controlled the play. We didn’t suffer.”
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Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez conceded his side had been outplayed by Saudi Arabia, although he did add that he thought his players had underperformed.
Nevertheless, it will have buoyed the Saudis somewhat before next Monday’s final Group A match against Egypt, who also have no chance of progression.
After the Russia defeat had left him feeling “ashamed”, Pizzi felt the Uruguay display had gone some way to restoring faith in his side.
“We were all united fighting for the same objective, and I think the people of Saudi Arabia will be happy with the spirit we showed,” he said. “Unfortunately we couldn’t play like this in the first game, and we regret that we have no possibility in the last game.
“But we’ll still represent our country, and we’ll make Saudi Arabia proud even though we are out of the tournament.”