TOKYO: Saudi’s U-23 squad has stepped up its training program under the watchful eye of coach Saad Al-Shehri ahead of its Olympic football tournament opener against Ivory Coast on Thursday.
The 22-man group took part in its second training session in Tokyo on Sunday, with Al-Shehri implementing both fitness and tactical exercises ahead of the game at Yokohama International Stadium. The sessions were set to continue on Monday and in the two days before the team launches its campaign.
The training included extensive fitness exercises as well as work on tactical set plays, with the day’s session ending with a half-field match focusing on defensive formations.
Saudi Arabia qualified for the Olympics after an absence of 24 years by finishing second, behind South Korea, in AFC U-23 Championship which took place in early 2020.
This will be Saudi Arabia’s third participation in the Olympic football tournament, and only the second with the U-23 squad.
In 1984 in Los Angeles, the senior national team lost all three Group C matches to Brazil (3-1), Morocco (1-0) and West Germany (6-0).
Playing in Group B at the 1996 Atlanta Games, the young Saudi players lost their opener 1-0 to Spain at the Citrus Bowl, Orlando, and followed that up with 2-1 defeats at Miami’s Orange Bowl to Australia and France.
Al-Shehri will be hoping that his team will claim Saudi’s first points at the Olympics in a tough group that includes Ivory Coast, Rio 2016’s silver medalists, Germany, and reigning champions Brazil.
The opener against an Ivory Coast team that has had little preparation will give the U-23 players the chance to banish the memory of the senior Saudi national team’s ill-fated 2002 World Cup campaign in Japan, which produced three defeats, including a harrowing 8-0 loss to the eventual finalists.
The 22 players representing Saudi in Tokyo are: Amin Bukhari, Mohammed Al-Rubaie, Zaid Al-Bawardi, Hamad Al-Yami, Khalifa Al-Dossary, Abdulilah Al-Omari, Saud Abdulhamid, Abdullah Hassoun, Abdulbasit Hindi, Yasser Al-Shahrani, Nasser Al-Omran, Ali Al-Hassan, Salman Al-Faraj, Mukhtar Ali, Abdulrahman Ghareeb, Sami Al-Najei, Ayman Al-Khalif, Turki Al-Ammar, Khalid Al-Ghannam, Ayman Yahya, Salem Al-Dossary, and Abdullah Al-Hamdan.