Saudi Arabia could see Neymar in action as part of Brazil's Global Tour at Riyadh
As far as 2019 Asian Cup preparations go, they do not come much more difficult.
On Friday, Saudi Arabia face Brazil in a friendly at Riyadh’s King Saud University Stadium, as the five-time world champions’ Global Tour takes them to the Middle East for the first time since 2010.
The match, only Saudi’s second since this summer's Fifa World Cup, serves not only as an important tune-up ahead of January’s Asian Cup in the UAE, but represents part of a four-team tournament staged in the Kingdom this coming week.
Alongside Saudi and Brazil, Argentina meet Iraq on Thursday in Riyadh, before the annual ‘Super Clasico’ between the two South American rivals takes place on Tuesday at King Abdullah Sports City.
The tournament, initiated by Turki Al Sheikh, the head of Saudi’s General Sports Authority, has been devised in part to provide the national team high-calibre opposition in the build-up to the Asian Cup.
Saudi Arabia, three-time continental champions, have been drawn in Group E alongside Qatar, Lebanon and North Korea. They open their account against North Korea in Dubai on January 8.
With that forming his focus, manager Juan Antonio Pizzi says he is grateful for Friday’s tough test in Riyadh.
“Having Brazil and Argentina in the ‘Super Clasico’ tournament brings a lot of momentum to this tournament,” the Argentine said. “Playing Brazil will deliver great benefits for our preparations for the Asian Cup.
“The support we at the national team and the league have been getting from Turki Al Sheikh has created a more competitive environment.”
The composition of the Brazil squad confirms the difficulty of the task at hand. Manager Tite has brought with him to Saudi a strong side, with both their matches expected to feature a host of marquee names, including Paris Saint-Germain’s Neymar, Barcelona’s Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino and Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus.
In fact, only Firmino is understood not to be a guaranteed starter against the Saudis.
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Nevertheless Brazil, who landed in Riyadh on Wednesday night, are using the tournament to experiment somewhat for next year’s Copa America, which will be contested on home soil for the first time in 30 years. In-form Barcelona midfielder Arthur and Tottenham Hotspur winger Lucas Moura are both anticipated to benefit.
Saudi last played Brazil in 2002, when they lost 1-0 in a friendly in Riyadh. The two sides enjoyed contrasting tournaments at the recent World Cup, with Saudi Arabia lessening the blow of their group-stage exit by defeating Egypt in their final match.
It marked the country's first win at the global finals in 24 years.
Meanwhile, Brazil failed to live up to their tag as pre-tournament favourites, departing Russia following a quarter-final defeat to Belgium.