Abdullah Al-Hamdan’s late goal earned Saudi Arabia a 1-1 draw with Palestine on Saturday and kept alive their hopes of progressing into the quarterfinals of the Arab Cup.
A first-half stunner from Mohammed Rashid in Qatar’s Education City looked to have condemned the young Green Falcons to a second successive defeat, three days after losing 1-0 to Jordan, but an equalizer with eight minutes remaining from the Al-Hilal striker earned the men in white a vital point.
The draw leaves Saudi Arabia in third in Group C with one point from two games and above Palestine on goal difference. Jordan have three points, while Morocco, the next opponents for Laurent Bonadei’s men, are already assured of a place in the last eight after winning both games so far 4-0. Only the top two teams progress.
With Saudi Arabia, who made eight changes from the Jordan game, fielding an inexperienced U-23 team, it was always going to be a difficult test and so it proved.
The first half was cagey, though Palestine started a little livelier, with both teams lacking quality in delivering the final ball. The first sight of goal for Saudi Arabia came with a free-kick after 14 minutes. Mohammed Al-Qahtani, the Al-Hilal teenager making his first start for the national team, curled a shot over the Palestine bar.
Palestine came close in the 37th minute. Tamer Seyam, the best player on the pitch in the first half, beat two men and his cross from the byline was heading for Khaled Salam, but Saudi goalkeeper Zaid Al-Bawardi managed to palm the ball away from the forward’s foot.
Then, in added time before the break, Palestine took the lead in some style. Rashid received the ball in the middle of the Saudi Arabia half, took two touches and then let loose an unstoppable shot that flew into the roof of the net to give the Indonesia-based defender his first international goal.
Saudi Arabia began the second half with purpose, moving the ball around quickly. Soon after the restart, Abdullah Radif forced a save from Amr Kaddura, the Palestine goalkeeper’s first real stop of the game. Moments later, Al-Qahtani’s low shot went just wide of the left post.
With 18 minutes remaining, Ayman Yahya’s shot from the edge of the box was deflected wide. On more than one occasion, there was frustration from the Saudi players waiting in the area at the quality of the final ball.
There was always a danger from Palestine counterattacks, which became more frequent the more Saudi Arabia pushed forward. Seyam, perhaps, should have scored and almost certainly sealed the win with a quarter of an hour remaining, but instead blasted the ball over.
Palestine rued that miss after 82 minutes when Saudi Arabia scored their first goal of the tournament. A long ball out of defense found Haitham Asiri on the right and his low pass was coolly slotted home by Al-Hamdan.
It was no less than this rookie Saudi Arabia team deserved, and they could even have won had Waleed Al-Ahmad not headed wide in injury time.
Next comes Morocco — the form team of the tournament so far — on Wednesday. The Atlas Lions have won both games, against Palestine and Jordan 4-0, and were impressive.
Morocco are already through to the last eight and may rest a few players, but regardless, for Saudi Arabia, a win is needed and then it depends on what happens during the showdown between Palestine and Jordan.