Mancini credits substitutes for Saudi win, Ivankovic hails Oman fighting spirit

Head coach Roberto Mancini credited his substitute players with Saudi Arabia’s 2-1 come from behind win over Oman in their opening AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023™ Group F match on Tuesday.

Oman had taken the lead inside the opening quarter of an hour thanks to a Salah Al Yahyaei penalty, and remained in front until the final 15 minutes when winger Abdulrahman Ghareeb came off the bench to score the equaliser then deliver the cross from the corner which resulted in Ali Al Bulayhi’s winner deep in added time.

“I think we played a very good game and we deserved the win,” said Mancini.

“We made one or two mistakes in the first half, which is normal in the first game, but in the end I believe we played a very good game. The players have been working hard over the past two weeks and have worked hard today to get a win that they deserved.”

“We have 23 players for this game, and when we change players, it is because we want to change the match. All the players who came in helped us change our game and get the win and that is an important role.”

The Green Falcons now boast a 100% win rate, with three out of three competitive matches since Mancini took over in September, but the former Italy and Manchester City boss believes the road to building a team in his image is still long.

“In recent years, football in Saudi Arabia has improved a lot. Of course, they need time to reach the level of European football, but I believe there are people there who want to make that happen.”

“I have only been here for four months, and we had just three training camps. Sometimes you need one year to get your ideas across at a club, but in a national team you are only with them for a shorter amount of time, so it is normal that we still have room for improvement.

“In this tournament, anything can happen. Now the most important thing is that we go through to the next round, then after that we take it game by game.”

Despite the defeat, Oman head coach Branko Ivankovic lauded his players for their resilient display, citing fatigue as one of the key reasons for the late capitulation.

“Congratulations to Saudi Arabia for their deserved win, but also congratulations to my players for their fighting spirit for 90 minutes,” said Ivankovic.

“I’m really proud of my players, although I wished we would get rewarded for it with at least one point, but it wasn’t to be. Today we proved that Oman are here to fight, to go toe-to-toe with opponents, and that gives us motivation going into the next matches.

“The players were a little bit tired by the end and Saudi Arabia were winning all the duels. I always ask my players to continue to fight, but we needed to score the second goal which would have given us security, but by the end players were suffering from fatigue and some injuries, so I didn’t have many options.”

With 41,987 fans in attendance, the game at Khalifa International Stadium recorded the second highest attendance in the tournament after the opening match, and Brankovic expressed his gratitude to both sets of supporters, vowing to bounce back in upcoming games.

“The atmosphere tonight was fantastic. We are proud to have been part of this game and that our fans contributed to this great atmosphere. I think it was the most exciting match in the tournament so far.

“We knew it would be a difficult match. The result wasn’t decided until the very end. We tried our best to get a result, but our objective now is to get two positive results against Thailand and Kyrgyz Republic. The players proved they have the ambition and desire to deliver good football.”

By Nadeem Faisal Baiga