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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 October 2018

Saudi Arabia earn 'important' World Cup win over Egypt to finish third in Group A

Al Dawsari's stoppage time strike gives the Saudis a 2-1 win and third place in Group A

Saudi Arabia scored twice, once in injury-time in each half, and concluded the 2018 World Cup with a first tournament victory in 24 years.

Egypt were beaten, caught once and once more as the clock seemed against everyone, robbed of a farewell point at least, consigned to wait another four years for another go at a first World Cup win.

Salem Al Dawsari decided the game at the death, building upon Salman Al Faraj’s first-half penalty and rendering redundant both Mohamed Salah’s opener and Essam El Hadary’s spot-kick save on the day the Egyptian captain became the oldest player in World Cup history.

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More from 2018 World Cup:

Naser Al Wasmi: Saudi football fans celebrate first win in Russia

Day 12 updates: All the news, previews, features and reports from Russia

Richard Jolly: Uruguay hand Russia a World Cup reality check to top Group A

Ian Hawkey: Nigeria again stand in Argentina's way of World Cup survival

Ronaldo, Pele, Zidane, Figo: Players Messi could follow with early World Cup exit

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Saudi triumphed and Egypt toiled again. Group A’s apparent dead-rubber delivered in the searing heat in Volgograd. The victors, bound for Riyadh not long after the win, can leave Russia with some satisfaction. For the vanquished, the inquest will begin. It is sure to be protracted and likely painful.

So much for nothing to play for, then.

“You said there was nothing at stake,” said Juan Antonio Pizzi, the Saudi manager, to a member of the media pack afterwards. “I don’t know what it is to play a World Cup. For me as a coach and my players, being at a World Cup is the most important thing. So there was a lot at stake for us.

“You really don’t understand what it means for Salem and Salman to be able to score at a World Cup. They will be able to tell this to their children, to their grandchildren, in 30 years: 'I scored during a World Cup'. This is amazing. So there was a lot at stake. Every single match is important.

“That is why it’s so difficult, that's why there's so many media representatives here and many people supporting us and telling the world what is going on here. Because in our job this is the most important thing ever."

They were important goals and goals to remember, too. If not purely for the execution, but the magnitude of the moment they arrived. First, Al Faraj kept his cool when referee Wilmar Roldan gave a penalty in first-half injury-time and then stuck by his original decision following a consultation with VAR.

Ali Gabr was deemed to have fouled Fahad Al Muwallad. The contact was minimal, the call stood, so Al Faraj stood tall and converted. It was six minutes into additional time; it was 12 minutes after Al Muwallad had his penalty saved by El Hadary after Ahmed Fathi had handballed when he knew nothing about it. . Both awards seemed harsh on Egypt.

By that stage, they were 1-0 up. Salah opened the scoring on 22 minutes, controlling Abdullah El Said’s over-the-top ball to race clear and lob Yasser Al Mosailem in the Saudi goal. It was Egypt’s first goal from open play at the World Cup in 84 years.

It was Salah’s second of a cruelly curtailed competition, one that encompassed injury, controversy and conjecture. His tournament has included the perceived exploitation for populist purposes by the Chechen leader and reportedly the subsequent threat of international retirement.

No wonder, then, that Salah barely celebrated. Two minutes later, he should have had another, yet his chip with only Al Mosailem to beat landed the wrong side of the Saudi post. Ultimately, and much like his time in Russia, he was left to rue what might have been.

"During the last month, the most important player in the Egypt team suffered an injury that didn't allow him to play the first game,” Pizzi said. “It stopped him from even preparing properly for this World Cup. And that psychologically was probably as hard for his national team as it was for his club, Liverpool."

Still, it felt the time for Pizzi to celebrate an historic victory for his side. It was secured once Al Dawsari collected from Abdullah Otayf and dragged his shot across El Hadary and, somehow, into the Egypt net. It was the 94th minute.

Later, Pizzi was asked about his future, saying decisions would be taken but that he remains happy in the role, before providing a message for those back in the Kingdom.

"Today I would like for the Saudi people to be happy," Pizzi said. "That, today, they enjoy our victory."