Saudi Arabia 0-4 Ukraine
Dearie, dearie me. May I ask a simple question which, I feel, really needs to be asked: How? How the hell have Saudi Arabia managed to qualify for every World Cup since 1994? On the basis of this performance, it’s difficult to see how the rest of the teams from Asia that didn’t qualify could be any worse. I’m considering applying for citizenship myself. By the time the five year residency period is up, I’ll be thirty-eight but, then again, so will Sami Al-Jaber, and I wouldn’t mind betting that he’ll still be playing for them then.
Of course, none of this should take anything away from the Ukraine – Rebrov and Shevchenko both got the goals that their long careers deserved, and they bossed the match so utterly that those of us who decried them as “one-man-wonders” (and I’ll hold my hands up to this myself) were left wondering what they’d been fed in the days inbetween the Spain match and this. Considering the Soviet Union’s record in terms of feeding it’s sportsmen and women, I think it probably for the best that we don’t dwell on that too much.
Equally puzzling was the decision of the Saudi coach, Marcos Paqueta, to play what was either a game of Scrabble or Battleships for the entire duration of the first half. With a board placed on his lap, he scarcely even looked at what was unfolding in front of him (perhaps wisely). If it was a bold new frontier in coaching, I think we can safely say that it failed. Utterly.
I’m not going to suggest for a single second that Ukraine are going to win the World Cup. Rebrov’s performance, whilst considerably improved from what he managed against Spain (or, for that matter, in his combined Tottenham or West Ham careers), still doesn’t like the finished article in terms of being a world-class striker, and Shevchenko , despite his goal, didn’t look fully involved. I’m still not altogether convinced that they can see off Tunisia, without an almighty scrap. As for Saudi Arabia… I’m scared to think what a Spain team on anything like full form will do to them.