Saudi Arabia 2-2 Tunisia
Earlier this afternoon, we were treated to the upper end of world football. A team playing at the top of it’s game, full of confidence and, for the first time on recent years, self-belief. The other match in the group, between Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, was closer to the Nationwide Conference than it was to the Premiership, but it was no less entertaining for it. The thrashing dished out to Ukraine this afternoon had filled both of these teams with optimism. They were, suddenly and unexpectedly, both in with an unexpected chance of getting through the group stages. The margin of defeat that Ukraine suffered meant that, if either of these teams won, they would have an excellent chance of getting through. As it turned out, though, a draw did neither of them any favours.
The first half was a lot of huff, a lot of puff, and not a lot of inspiration. The one moment of excellence came from Jaziri, who volleyed in from a corner. Otherwise, not a lot to report. At half-time, though, they must have put something in the tea. Noor missed a chance that may have been easier to score, but evened it up by levelling it. As commentator Jon Champion was describing the lavish riches that surround his life, the Saudi legend Sami Al-Jaber (who’d come on a minute or so earlier) sprinted through to give them the lead. It looked all over, going into stoppage time. And then, with seconds to play in stoppage time, Jaziri crossed for Jaidi to score. In a moment of impressive self-absorption combined with nerdy trivialty, Champion remarked “And Jaidi becomes the first Bolton Wanderers player to score in the World Cup finals since Nat Lofthouse for England in 1954”. As I said before, a peculiarly entertaining football match.