VOLGOGRAD, Russia (Reuters) - A halftime pep talk and a step-up in pace were the keys to Saudi Arabia’s last-gasp World Cup A win over Egypt on Monday, according to coach Juan Antonio Pizzi.
His side scored in the 95th minute to win 2-1 and end the tournament on a high despite both sides failing to progress from Group A.
“We thought if we were able to speed up the pace, we would have more opportunities and that is what we told our players. We told them they had to be stronger on attack... we also played very well on the flanks and I think that we deserved the win,” the Argentine-born Pizzi told reporters.
Saudi Arabia were much more dangerous after reaching the break at 1-1. The win was their first at a World Cup since 1994.
Having lost their opening match 5-0 to Russia, they finished third in the group behind Uruguay and the tournament hosts. Egypt, led by Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah, finished in last place in the group without winning a point.
Pizzi conceded that his team - the second-lowest ranked of the tournament - at times lacked precision.
“I think there were only two opportunities really for Egypt. I think in general we kept them in check,” he said.
“It was very hot, you know, and both sides wanted to win, that’s the reason why at certain points during the match we played wider and there were more gaps on the pitch. In general we kept control.”
Pizzi believed the Saudis had also profited from Salah’s injury problems, the striker having hurt shoulder ligaments in the Champions League final against Real Madrid in May.
“I think that psychologically his injury was also hard for his team,” he said.
A very “happy” Pizzi refused to be drawn on whether he would remain in his job, saying the decision was not in his hands.
Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer, editing by Tony Lawrence