After all the excitement of last night, it was back to the dull and the ordinary this afternoon. Spain decided to field their entire reserve team against the Saudis, but still had enough about them to win, in spite of a surprisingly heroic performance by Zaid in the Saudi Arabian goal. Juanito scored the only goal, but they should have had a hatful. Al Harthi blazed a simple chance over the crossbar from eight yards out towards the end, but it would have been a scantly deserved point for the Saudis, who now haven’t won a World Cup finals match since 1994, despite having qualified for each of the last three finals. Back to the drawing board for them – and a farewell to Sami Al-Haber, who was probably playing in his last World Cup finals. I daresay we’ll see them again in four years time.
All the “drama”, for the want of a better word, was at the Ukraine-Tunisia match. The first half was one of the worst forty-five minutes of football I’ve ever seen. I dozed off for about fifteen minutes of it, but woke up in time to hear Simon Brotherton say that there had been one shot on target, so I wasn’t that concerned. The sending off of Jaziri was a talking point – a second yellow card for an innocuous tackle right on half-time. I was particularly interested in Lee Dixon’s view at half-time that he was glad that Jaziri was sent off for the second yellow card because the dive that earnt him his first one was so blatant. I wonder if he’d have applied that sort of logic to Michael Owen against Argentina in 1998?
The second half brought the only moment of any real excitement in the entire game, a dubious penalty for a foul on Shevchenko. Shevchenko was, I feel, unfairly slated after the Spain match, when it was quite clear that he wasn’t receiving any service. Still, it’s two in three games for him now, and Ukraine are through. They deserve it, although I was surprised that Tunisia, who won’t get a better chance to get through the first round, didn’t just throw caution to the wind in an attempt to get there. Spain will need to play better than they did today if they’re going to break their World Cup voodoo, but we’ve already seen what they’re capable of. Ukraine will have half a chance of beating anyone, so long as they can get the ball to Shevchenko.