Australia v Saudi Arabia by Thomas Esamie

Saudi Arabia 1 - Australia 0

The Aussies played the hosts hoping to win and perhaps getting the top spot in the group. However before the match even started news of some drama from the Australian camp came through in the form of (yet another!) pay dispute. Apparently the Australian players had to share about a 3rd of the prizemoney with the administration pocketing the rest when some countries were giving players the lions share of the winnings. This does not take into account the state of the game in Australia specifically but the Australian players made it clear they were playing under protest and threatened to strike during the Optus 4 Nations tournament early in the next year. They declined the very dangerous ploy of refusing to play at the Confederations Cup since such an action would not only tarnish Australia but very likely get them kicked out of FIFA. As the Optus tournament is not FIFA sanctioned action there would be a more acceptable form of protest.

That aside this match was Australia's best performance and, paradoxically, worst result. The bulk of play was in the Saudi half for the whole match and while not taking away from the achievement of the Saudi win Australia were unlucky to lose.

Australia's second corner of the night (infact this time Australia were playing in the early match)was caught by the keeper but his clearance cannonned striaght into Robbie Slater. While Slaters only international goal was scored with his backside this time the effort was not repeated. Saudi Arabia also got a few good jabs in with Sami Al-Jaber feeding a pass to Owairan and while not scoring the Saudi's did get a corner out of the deal.

In a sense Australia's overall dominance was probably their downfall. Figuring they had a win coming to them one way or another Australia got lax and allowed a great Saudi move to come off. Infact it was so neat and beautiful to see I might try my hand at an ASCII representation


                     A'            |
+-------------------+              |
|                   |              |

A, B, C and A' is the sequence of passes by Saudi players, I don't bother with the Aussie positions since they didn't seem to have much of an effect anyway but it was a nice play to watch because it was simple, well executed and once Al-Khilaiwi had slipped the ball between Bosnich's legs for the goal it had worked.

Of course this left Australia in a very delicate position. A draw would secure them passage to the semi-final, as would a win. However a loss would mean they had to rely on Brazil beating Mexico in the following game. While still likely a Brazilian win over a resurgent Mexico when Brazil had been decidedly lacklustre....well it was time for Australia to attck in earnest if it were to clear away the nagging doubts.

The half ended before the Saudis could take the corner they had just earnt, which struck me as an odd time to blow for the break, and no doubt Venables took some of his players to task over the performance, or lack of it, in front of goal.

Within 5 minutes of the restart Al-Khilaiwi turned villain when conceding a free kick to Australia for a foul on Skoko just outside the penalty area. The commentator became a little excited because Skoko fell inside but clearly the foul was committed before a penalty kick was on the cards. While the Australian penalty kick ability isn't exactly proud either the free kicks are now almost legendary in their mediocrity. Ned knows how to kick a ball but again the free kick failed to get on target.

Of course this business of chasing the goal leaves you open to the fast break and it was a good thing Bosnich was paying attention as Owairan broke free and crossed the ball to Al Jaber. Bosnich went to his left to stop the scoreline ballooning into a 2 goal Saudi lead. 20 minutes into the 2nd half Australia won a corner which was taken by Skoko and his cross was met by Mori who only managed a glancing touch when anything more solid would have been a certain goal. Two minutes later Mori and Aloisi were taken off the pitch and Viduka and Kewell came on with immediate, yet sadly intangible, results.

Australia got the zip and penetration it had been lacking so far and Al Deayea suddenly found himself defending more corners and having to make saves from shots by Viduka and Kewell. The ones he didn't save went wide to further frustrate Australia's efforts. One of Vidukas efforts was a very scrambling affair where the ball hit Viduka rather than the other way around and was eventually stopped inches short of crossing the line at the base of the upright by Al Deayea.

For some reason Aurelio Vidmar came on for Skoko, the latter having played quite well and while it was clear Temawi was going to come on for Owairan it was equally clear Owairan had no intention of leaving the field and eventually Al Muwalid made way for Temawi's entry. Within the next 6 minutes Saudi Arabia created 2 gilt-edged chances to score. Both involved Temawi, one from a fast break after Australia failed to make another corner count and then Temawi himself took a shot which Bosnich just managed to get a hand to to allow a defender to clear the ball before it crossed the goal-line.

Ivanovic managed a late yellow card and eventually Owairan did come off the field. Then to add to the drama Mark Bosnich comes forward in an attempt to head a goal from a corner (why not, no-one else seemed able to do it) but that too came to little and Bosnich clattered into Al Deayea as the latter caught the ball.

Finally one last corner in injury time was met by Mark Viduka at the near post. He headed the ball down and it bounced up, seemingly for the roof of the net when the crossbar gets in the way and the ball looped back into the field of play.

Australia were destined not to score and must have been very nervous watching the following game until Brazil ran out 3-2 winners over Mexico ensuring Australia stayed alive a little longer.

Written by Thomas Esamie