Saudi Arabia take plenty of positives from World Cup as focus turns to 2019 Asian Cup
The Gulf side got progressively better in the tournament, signing off with a win against Egypt to finish third in Group A
Saudi Arabia have been encouraged by their overall World Cup performance having “woken up” after the heavy opening defeat to Russia.
The Gulf side, the first Asian country to participate in the tournament’s curtain-raiser, began their Group A campaign in worst possible fashion, losing 5-0 to the hosts. They did not register a single shot on target.
However, Saudi improved considerably in the 1-0 defeat to Uruguay – a result that nevertheless confirmed their elimination – before winning their final group game against Egypt on Monday.
Saudi scored in injury-time to triumph 2-1 and secure their first victory at a World Cup since 1994. Thus, they finished third in the group.
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"Overall, we can all agree that we wanted to do better,” said Omar Bakhashwain, the Saudi national team manager. “The dream was to go through because every team wants to finish as the top side in the group.
"But for a team of players that have never played a World Cup before and to play the opening game, for sure there is something different.
“When you look at the three games, you see in the opening game there was a lot of emotions. Everything was new, even the warm-up - you warm up for less time because you have to go outside and wait 40 minutes for the opening ceremony. These things were all new for us and came into play, but it was also a great experience.”
Competing in the World Cup for the first time in 12 years, Saudi enjoyed the majority of possession in all three matches, although they lacked a cutting edge.
It represents one of the key areas for manager Juan Antonio Pizzi to address ahead of the 2019 Asian Cup, which takes place in the UAE next January. The Argentine, whose contract expired following the World Cup, signed an extension on Tuesday through to the conclusion of the continent’s premier competition.
“Look at the team and the level of the team and it was always getting better,” Bakhashwain said. “I wish there had been a fourth group game for us so we could have gone through. The curve was going up.
"We woke up after that first game and did a good job. All three games we had more possession than the opposition, but obviously we have areas we must improve and the coach will look at that going forward.
“I know this is the best performance at a World Cup since 1994, but we could have done better if it was not for the opening game. You have to accept surprises and that is one of the things we faced in that first game.
"This is football — every day we learn something new. We had never played an opening game at a World Cup, but now that we have we will be better for it and will have more experience for the future.
"For sure they will take away experience from this World Cup and any positives we leave with we can use in the next competition. The negative things we have to try to forget and not do again."
Updated: June 27, 2018 04:48 PM