January 24 – Saudi Arabia coach Roberto Mancini said he will stick to his philosophy and team selection despite criticism of his team’s performances.
With a final first-round fixture against Thailand on Thursday, the Saudis are on course to clinch top spot in Group F after modest victories over Oman and nine-man Kyrgyzstan, but the six points have not shielded the Italian manager from criticism after he sent three players home at the start of the Asian Cup.
“My policy is that the players who are ready to play will play. I have 26 players. Some are famous, others are young, but if you win it’s as a team, not because of one player,” said Mancini at a news conference.
“We need to have a strong team with a strong mentality. We need them to think they can win all games as a team together. I use players that I feel can be important now and for the future. We have a mix of some young players and senior players.”
“In the next months, we need to change and increase the number of young players for the future. For now, we have to think about this tournament, which is very important for us.”
Mancini dropped players from the squad that defeated eventual champions Argentina at the 2022 World Cup, prompting criticism from the Saudi press as well as former players, but the Italian, who departed his national team at home for the Saudi role, is seeking a deep run with the Falcons, who last won the continental crown in 1996 on home soil.
He denied that he said Saudi Arabia can’t win the Asian Cup as he confirmed that Japan, Iran, South Korea and Australia remain the favourites in Doha.
“I only said there are four teams – Japan, Korea, Australia and Iran – who are very high in the rankings and they have more chances to win,” said Mancini.
“But I never said we can’t win. I’ve managed this team for four months. Sometimes it’s not enough, you need more time. But we’ve improved a lot in four months and we can improve in the future,” said Mancini.
“Can we win? I don’t know, it’s a long road but we want to try. We had a lot of chances in the last game and didn’t score enough, we have to improve this. But it’s important we’re able to create chances. After that, probably we will score.”
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