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Saudi Arabia supreme

THE future of Saudi Arabian football looks bright. At least, that was what their Spanish coach felt after their Under-19 team won the U-23 GCC Cup, beating Bahrain 2-0 in the final at the Aspire Indoor Stadium on Tuesday.

Abdulrahman Al Ghamdi found the target in the 17th minute after he was put through by Ahmed Hassan, who added a second in the 53rd.

“These boys are the future of Saudi football. They’re hugely talented and can bolster the senior team in the days to come,” said Sergio Piernas. While most other teams came here with their U-23 teams, Saudi brought a bunch of extremely motivated teenagers.

Asked about his team’s chances in the forthcoming AFC U-19 Championship, Piernas said he was hopeful, but would keep his fingers crossed.

“I want to go step by step. I don’t want to rush,” said Piernas.

“We’ve just won a tournament which is good for the team. It’ll encourage them to do better. But it isn’t enough, for we still have a lot of work to do,” he said.

When their senior counterparts are struggling at international events — they crashed out in the third round of the 2014 World Cup qualification — the Saudi juniors seem to have taken up the job of resurrecting the country’s football fortunes. Last year, they entered the pre-quarterfinal at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia before falling to Brazil 0-3.

The impressive wins against Croatia (2-0) and Guatmela (6-0) are still being talked about.

“It’s important that the players know from the beginning what I’m teaching them. I guess they’ve learnt well,” smiled Piernas, who had earlier coached the U-19 teams of Atletico Madrid and Getafe in Spain.

The Saudis took a bit to settle down and were even held to a 1-1 draw by Oman in the opening match. But after that, they were unstoppable, emphatically winning the remaining matches.

“After the Oman match, I explained to the boys where they lacked. I’m happy that they bounced back with an authoritative display which I expected from them,” said the coach.

The Saudis had warmed up for the final with a comprehensive 3-0 win against their opponents in the group stage, a win which set up the tone for them. They outclassed the UAE 3-0 in the semifinal.

“I tell my players that they’re my stars. Besides the training sessions, you must also admire them. Keep them in good spirit and encourage them because they need it,” he explained.

In just three months, Piernas has been able to shape the career of Saudi’s future stars.

“I’m just doing my job. I had followed the same pattern and philosophy while I was with Athletico Madrid and Getafe,” he said.

Undoubtedly, the best team won. And that augurs well for Saudi football.