DOHA (AFP) - – Saudi Arabia’s quest for a fourth Asian Cup lay in tatters on Monday after they sacked beleaguered coach Jose Peseiro in the wake of an embarrassing 2-1 defeat to Syria in their opening game.
The Portuguese, a former assistant to Carlos Queiroz at Real Madrid, had been under intense pressure after he failed to get Saudi Arabia to last year’s World Cup.
Experienced veteran Nasser Al Johar takes over.
With relations with the Saudi media at an all-time low, Peseiro’s bosses immediately wielded the axe after seeing the Green Falcons deservedly beaten by Group B outsiders Syria on Sunday evening.
“We have sacked Jose Peseiro after the loss and appointed Nasser Al Johar to continue our mission at the Asian Cup,” said the Saudi Football Association in a statement in the wake of the humiliating defeat.
The Saudis, traditionally one of the region’s best teams, had been expected to compete for the Asian Cup crown alongside the likes of Japan, Australia and South Korea, but a brace from Abdulrazak Al Husein sealed Peseiro’s fate.
With Japan being held by Jordan in the other game Sunday, Al Johar, a Saudi national who has coached the national team before, has time to turn it around.
But he needs nothing less than victory in the Saudis’ next game, against Jordan on Thursday.
Al Johar has been in this position before. He took over at the 2000 Asian Cup when the Saudis fired Milan Macala, again after defeat in their opening game, and helped steer them to the final, where they lost to Japan.
He was also at the helm during the 2002 World Cup and took over again in 2008 when Helios Dos Anjos was let go, only to resign in February 2009 when the Saudis lost to North Korea in World Cup qualifying.
Former Sporting Lisbon coach Peseiro, 50, who took over from Al Johar in 2009, had been on borrowed time amid intense media pressure.
At a press conference on Saturday in the lead-up to the Syria game he clashed repeatedly with Saudi reporters who questioned his tactics, team selection and deteriorating relations with the media.
“You are our partners and I expect the media to talk about me,” he said then.
“But please respect my personal life. Sometimes I make mistakes and sometimes I do good things, but whatever, I will be the same.
“I accept the pressure, but ask you don’t put pressure on my players because they need to play.”
Peseiro cut an even more isolated figure in the press conference after the Syria debacle, a game in which the Saudis drew level on the hour before conceding a sloppy second three minutes later.
They bombarded the Syria goal in the last 15 minutes but could not make the breakthrough, Syria’s fanatical travelling contingent celebrating a famous victory like they had won the tournament itself.
“I believe that we will win the Asian Cup,” Peseiro told reporters in the wake of the defeat, to laughs of derision from some Saudi press.
He was fired immediately afterwards.