TOKYO: A big day of action for the two Arab teams at the Olympics on Sunday saw two defeats but only one was decisive.
Egypt followed that goalless draw against Spain on the opening day by losing 1-0 to Argentina. There was worse news for Saudi Arabia who lost 3-2 against a 10-man German team. It means that the Young Falcons are officially out of contention for the last eight, though Egypt are still hanging on in Japan.
Here are five things we learned from the latest round of matches.
1. Saddest Saudi loss of all but still much to be happy about
Seven Olympic football games and a far from magnificent run of seven told its own story before Saudi Arabia’s latest attempt at winning an Olympic football fixture — and now it is eight from eight.
This was surely the most painful one of all — even more than the six-goal loss to West Germany in 1984 — because this was a game that Saudi Arabia could, perhaps should have won, and certainly not one they should have lost.
With 56 percent possession and 14 shots on goal, there was much to be happy about. There was some delightful attacking play and there cannot have been many better goals in this tournament than the second one scored by Sami Al-Najei after 50 minutes, a goal that finished off a slick passing move.
The Germans will be mightily relieved to get the three points because they will know that it could so easily have been none. This was a meeting of equals.
2. Red card was the turning point
At the midway point of the second half, the Saudis had managed to get back on level terms, were in the ascendancy, and had been given a man advantage when Amos Pieper brought down Abdullah Al-Hamdan when the Al-Hilal striker looked to have a clear run on goal.
At that point, if you had to bet on which team would lose a second successive match and be eliminated with a game to spare you would have said it was the Germans who were going home. At the very least, a point looked to be in the bag for Saad Al-Shehri and his men.
But for the next 10 minutes or so, some of the young Saudi players seemed to switch off. The amount of space that suddenly appeared behind the Asian defense was eye-popping. In that short spell, Germany could have scored three or four. In the end, they managed just one, but it proved to be enough.
3. Defense and mentality are the issues but can be fixed
Going into the tournament there were concerns that Saudi Arabia looked a little light in attack and would struggle to get the goals needed.
Despite that, three have been scored in the first two games and it could have been more, easily. Had the defense been a little tighter, however, the west Asians would be in a much better position now.
The second Ivory Coast goal apart, which was a piece of fine individual skill, the other four conceded have been a little soft.
That culminated late in the game on Sunday. While Germany was down to 10 men, it was obvious that they would still be a threat from set pieces yet with 15 minutes remaining, big defender Felix Uduokhai was left unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box.
The Falcons pushed the more internationally experienced Germany and Ivory Coast all the way but perhaps did not quite believe they could get the results. A little more confidence will go a long way.
4. Saudis should focus on the positives, and on Brazil
While the result was disappointing and undeserved, there is no doubt that for this game, Saudi Arabia more than matched Germany, a team made up of Bundesliga players. Had the defense been a little tighter and minds a little more focused, then it could easily have been three points.
This should not be forgotten and is something to build on. The players have to put this down to experience and learn from it to improve. Assuming that happens then these Olympics could yet be a major staging post in the development of Saudi Arabian football and fans will look back with pride at a team that, unlike the first two Olympic appearances, has what it takes to compete with the best. That needs to continue against Brazil, and a good result would be of huge significance.
5. Egypt still in the hunt
After keeping out the title favorites Spain in the opening game, Egypt could not manage to collect a second clean sheet against Argentina and, despite looking much more dangerous going forward than in the first match, could not manage to score their first goal of the tournament so far either. But it was always likely to be about the final game, that meeting with Australia.
A win will send Egypt into the last eight, if Argentina do not defeat Spain, and if that happens, then goal difference and/or goals scored will come into play.
Heading into the tournament it was assumed that Australia would present Egypt’s best chance of taking three points and while that still may be the case, the Olyroos have impressed so far, especially in that 1-0 win over Argentina in the opener.
Yet Egypt has looked just as tight and disciplined. Both teams will fancy their chances, but the ball is still in Egypt’s court.