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World Cup Comment: Five Reasons Why Saudi Arabia Failed To Qualify

World cup play-offs provide automatic drama as a matter-of-course but the sudden switch for Saudi Arabia supporters from frustration to elation and then to desolation will long be remembered in Riyadh by the 71,000 who crammed into King Fahd International Stadium.

With the second leg of the play-off with Bahrain 1-1 entering injury time, Bahrain were heading for a final World Cup decider against New Zealand in October and November.

Then, Hamad Al Montashari, an unusual source, scored to send the home fans wild. South Africa and a fifth appearance on the global stage was in sight.

But with the fans still celebrating, a corner wasn’t defended and Bahrain took advantage to once again prove that the old adage which states that you are always at your most vulnerable when you have just scored holds true.

It is a moment that will live long in the memory of Saudi boss Jose Peseiro and the fans from Bahrain who are close, for the second time in four years, to a first World cup.

For Saudi Arabia however, not appearing at a World Cup for the first time since 1990 is a reality and fingers will be pointed.

Why did this traditional powerhouse fail?

1. Can’t Score When It Matters

The team just hasn’t performed. In eight qualification matches and the two legs against Bahrain, the Green Falcons have won just three games – two against a hapless UAE and one come-from-behind victory against Iran.

Just ten goals came in those ten games and tellingly, the West Asians didn’t score once in four games against the top two the group, North and South Korea. The home game against DPRK became a tale of impotence and frustration which just about summed up the whole campaign.

2. King Fahd Is No Fortress

Saudi Arabia only won one game at home in five matches. The King Fahd International stadium is a fine piece of architecture but didn't help the hosts this time round. In the past, the team has occasionally played in Dammam and Jeddah but Riyadh was not a tough place to go for visiting teams.

3.Big Stars Didn’t Perform

Yasser Al Qahtani, the 2007 Asian Player of the Year and the team’s pin-up boy, rarely impressed and missed the two wins in the middle of the campaign that were responsible for the Saudis getting as far as they did.

Suspended for the Iran match in March, he was then thrown off the team for the tie with UAE four days later for reportedly missing training. The stories as to why he had done so were pretty wild and the rumours did nothing for team spirit or The Sniper’s reputation.

Other experienced stars such as Mohammed Noor and Hamad Al Montashari were below par and at times there was a lethargy about the team.

4.Lack Of Stability

 If you talk to the fans then the problems go back much longer and the football federation gets the blame for constant changing of coaches.

Gabriel Calderon is the one that sticks out in recent memory. The Argentine was fired in December 2005 despite leading the team through qualification with the minimum of fuss. The reasons behind the decision were vague and something to do with his preparation plans for Germany 2006.

Calderon is currently impressing with Saudi champions Al Ittihad. Peseiro has done enough to deserve more time and continue rebuilding the team but history suggests that he will be on his way.

5.Bad Luck

The difference between success and failure is often small and in the cause of Saudi Arabia it was around 30 seconds as the defence went AWOL.

It is easy to remember the 2-0 home defeat at the hands of South Korea in Riyadh. Despite the ultimate comfort of the win, it could have gone very differently. Naif Hazazi went down in the area under a challenge from goalkeeper Lee Woon-jae. Two countries at the opposite sides of Asia held their breath but instead of a penalty, the referee sent off Hazazi and the visitors started to take control of a game that was evenly balanced.

The injury to the same player, Saudi's sharpest-looking striker, just before the Bahrain match was unfortunate as was the absence of Malek Maaz. One of the stars of the 2007 Asian Cup when the Saudis swashbuckled their way to the final, Maaz missed most matches through injury.

In the end though, Saudi Arabia can have few complaints.

John Duerden,

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