Late goal salvages point for Saudi Arabia against Palestine and maintains hopes of FIFA Arab Cup progress

Late goal salvages point for Saudi Arabia against Palestine and maintains hopes of FIFA Arab Cup progress
Saudi Arabia's defender Saud Abdulhamid (L) and Palestine's midfielder Tamer Seyam vie for a header during the FIFA Arab Cup 2021 group C football match. (File/AFP)
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Updated 05 December 2021

Late goal salvages point for Saudi Arabia against Palestine and maintains hopes of FIFA Arab Cup progress

Late goal salvages point for Saudi Arabia against Palestine and maintains hopes of FIFA Arab Cup progress
  • A 1-1 draw leaves Green Falcons needing a win in last match against Morocco to have chance of reaching the quarterfinals

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.


Salem Al-Dawsari’s strike too late for Green Falcons as Mexico prevail 2-1

Salem Al-Dawsari’s strike too late for Green Falcons as Mexico prevail 2-1
Updated 43 min 28 sec ago

Salem Al-Dawsari’s strike too late for Green Falcons as Mexico prevail 2-1

Salem Al-Dawsari’s strike too late for Green Falcons as Mexico prevail 2-1
  • Second-half goals from Henry Martin and Luis Chavez secured victory for Mexico but they finished third behind Poland in the group
  • Ali Al-Hassan nearly sent the bulk of the largely Saudi crowd wild late in the first half with a diving header that flashed wide of the far post

DOHA: Mexico suffered an agonizing exit from the World Cup on goal difference on Wednesday despite beating Saudi Arabia 2-1 in a dramatic finale to Group C.
Second-half goals from Henry Martin and Luis Chavez secured victory for Mexico but they finished third behind Poland after Salem Al-Dawsari’s late strike.
Mexico desperately pushed for a third goal in an effort to improve their goal difference as they faced elimination on FIFA fair play rules.
Saudi Arabia’s win over Argentina in their opening match was one of the World Cup’s great upsets, but they crashed back down to earth with a 2-0 loss to Poland in their second game.
Coach Herve Renard urged his players to show that was no flash in the pan and write themselves into Saudi football history by reaching knockout rounds for the first time since 1994.
Having failed to win either of their first two group games for the first time in 44 years, Mexico knew victory was essential if they were to stand a chance of reaching the last 16 at an eighth successive World Cup.
Mexico boss Gerardo Martino ditched the back five he used in the 2-0 loss to Argentina and brought in Martin to lead the attack.
It almost reaped immediate rewards but Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais raced out to block Alexis Vega after he was slipped in behind the defense by Hirving Lozano.
Al-Owais, one of the heroes of the 2-1 win over Argentina, tentatively palmed away a bouncing cross ahead of a lunging Martin and held weak attempts by Chavez and Orbelin Pineda.
Mohamed Kanno whipped a free-kick just over for Saudi Arabia, who saw defender Ali Al-Bulayhi forced off with injury — adding to their mounting casualty list.
Mexico continued to attack without success and Ali Al-Hassan nearly sent the bulk of the largely Saudi crowd wild late in the first half with a diving header that flashed wide of the far post.
Chavez tested Al-Owais right after the interval and Martin soon broke the deadlock as he turned in from close range following Cesar Montes’ clever flick-on at a corner.
Mexico’s second goal arrived just five minutes later when Chavez sensationally curled a free-kick into the top corner from 30 meters.
Keeping an eye on the score between Argentina and Poland, Mexico pushed relentlessly for a third goal, with Lozano’s effort ruled out for a tight offside.
Martin blazed over when he had a glorious chance and Chavez had another free-kick turned away by Al-Owais, who also sprawled to his right to claw out a drive from Lozano.
Uriel Antuna then had another goal disallowed for offside before Al-Dawsari’s late strike put an end to the drama.


Eriksen flops for dismal Denmark on major tournament return

Eriksen flops for dismal Denmark on major tournament return
Updated 01 December 2022

Eriksen flops for dismal Denmark on major tournament return

Eriksen flops for dismal Denmark on major tournament return
  • Eriksen's return to the World Cup had been highly anticipated after a good spell for both club and country following a dramatic comeback from a cardiac arrest
  • Demark were toothless after Mathew Leckie's twisting run and low finish gave Australia a 60th-minute lead

DOHA: Christian Eriksen’s Denmark came to the World Cup tipped as dark horses after reaching the semifinals of last year’s European Championship but have exited with barely a whimper after a 1-0 defeat to Australia.
Eriksen’s return to the World Cup had been highly anticipated after a good spell for both club and country following a dramatic comeback from a cardiac arrest.
The playmaker collapsed on the pitch against Finland in June 2021 during the delayed Euro 2020 tournament and had to be resuscitated in front of a stunned Copenhagen crowd and a television audience of millions.
On the way to hospital he told his wife Sabrina that he would probably never play football again but he fought his way back to fitness.
The 30-year-old had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator fitted, which meant he had to quit Inter Milan due to rules in Italy.
But he signed for Brentford in the Premier League and also resumed his international career, subsequently joining Manchester United.
Denmark were favorites to qualify from Group D alongside world champions France, whom they beat home and away in the Nations League.
Before their opening goalless draw with Tunisia, assistant coach Morten Wieghorst said Eriksen was “even better than he was before the accident.”
But he was underwhelming in a team that lacked the spark that carried them to the semifinals at last year’s Euros.
“Christian is a superhero but he performs with the team,” said Denmark captain Simon Kjaer.
“He is an amazing footballer but we have to look to each other and see that as a team we didn’t perform.
“We made one goal, got one point, couldn’t beat Australia at the end of the group and OK we go home.”
Eriksen was wearing the captain’s armband on Wednesday in place of the injured Kjaer but he failed to sparkle at Al Janoub Stadium, unable to inspire his strangely lacklustre teammates.
Demark were toothless after Mathew Leckie’s twisting run and low finish gave Australia a 60th-minute lead, which ultimately gave them the win they needed to qualify from the group, second behind France.
A strangely subdued display from Eriksen was summed up in stoppage time when he miscontrolled a pass even though he had a chance to shoot in the penalty area and then bounced off Australia defender Harry Souttar onto the grass.
Coach Kasper Hjulmand wondered aloud why his team had played with such a “lack of enthusiasm and coherence” in a match they had to win.
Kjaer pinned the blame on the squad as a whole rather than the man who was supposed to show why he is rated as one of Europe’s best playmakers.
“Every team has a player that they count on, and we count on Christian,” said Kjaer.
“This is not on Christian, this is on the team, because if we managed to put him in the right situations, Christian will make the difference. We win and lose as a team.”


Messi and Argentina advance at World Cup, beat Poland 2-0

Messi and Argentina advance at World Cup, beat Poland 2-0
Updated 01 December 2022

Messi and Argentina advance at World Cup, beat Poland 2-0

Messi and Argentina advance at World Cup, beat Poland 2-0
  • The Argentina great had a penalty saved but his team still beat Poland 2-0
  • Messi’s likely final World Cup rolls onto Saturday

DOHA: Rest easy, soccer fans. Lionel Messi will grace the World Cup stage at least one more time.
The Argentina great had a penalty saved but his team still beat Poland 2-0 Wednesday after second-half goals from Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez and advanced to the last 16.
Argentina finished in first place in Group C to set up a match against Australia, a surprise qualifier for the knockout stage.
It’s a strong position for Argentina to be in, especially considering the team opened the World Cup with a shocking 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia in one of biggest upsets in the tournament’s history. Messi’s likely final World Cup rolls onto Saturday.
He will be relieved after failing to score a penalty for the second straight World Cup. It was awarded after being hit in the face by the flailing hand of Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who made amends by diving to his left to block Messi’s kick.
Mac Allister converted a cross from Nahuel Molina inside the first minute of the second half and Alvarez — selected ahead of Lautaro Martinez — curled the second into the top corner in the 67th minute.


Kane extends World Cup goal drought but equals Beckham feat

Kane extends World Cup goal drought but equals Beckham feat
Updated 30 November 2022

Kane extends World Cup goal drought but equals Beckham feat

Kane extends World Cup goal drought but equals Beckham feat
  • Against a Wales team broken by goals from Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden, Kane was looking to finally get off the mark in Qatar
  • Rashford added a third of the match and his third of the tournament

DOHA: For Harry Kane, the wait for a first goal at this World Cup goes on.
Substituted after 58 minutes of England’s 3-0 win against Wales on Tuesday, he embraced his replacement Callum Wilson and made his way to the bench to watch the remainder of the game.
England coach Gareth Southgate clearly thought the job was done and qualification to the knockout stage secured.
Kane, despite shaking hands with his coach, might not have shared that view.
For a man who is famously reluctant to sit out any opportunity to add to his scoring record, it was likely a frustrating watch from the sidelines at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.
Against a Wales team broken by goals from Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden, Kane was looking to finally get off the mark in Qatar. Instead, Rashford added a third of the match and his third of the tournament.
“He’s enjoying his football, but for any forward you want to be scoring goals,” Rashford said.
England scored nine goals as they topped Group B, but none came from their most prolific forward.
Yet Kane, who was the Golden Boot winner at the World Cup in Russia four years ago and is two short of Wayne Rooney’s all-time England record of 53 goals, has still made a notable contribution.
Providing the cross for Foden’s second-half strike, he became England’s first player to register three assists at a World Cup since David Beckham in 2002. He can add to that total when England play Senegal in the round of 16 on Sunday.
“You need goals from all areas, and it is a problem for opposition teams if the threat is coming from other areas of the pitch,” Southgate said. “Across the three games pretty much all of our forward line has got off the mark — if not with goals then with important, quality assists and that’s a good place for the forward to be. They want to have that confidence.”
England’s captain has always been a creator as well as a finisher and his assist statistics in his opening three games — also setting up goals for Raheem Sterling and Rashford against Iran — is evidence of just how complete a forward he is.
It also underlines his enduring importance to England.
Kane hurt his ankle and foot in the opening match against Iran, but Southgate has started the 29-year-old striker in all three matches.
“It is competition for places, which is what we need and people have to deliver,” Southgate said.
Goals aren’t a particular concern for England, with Rashford, Bukayo Saka (two), Sterling, Jack Grealish and Jude Bellingham all scoring so far.
Rashford, who missed a penalty in England’s shootout loss to Italy in the European Championship final last year, is the tournament’s co-leading scorer alongside Kylian Mbappé, Cody Gakpo and Enner Valencia.
“In a long career, you’re always going to have ups and you always will have downs and it’s all about how you bounce back from them,” Manchester United and England teammate Harry Maguire said after the Wales match. “I can’t speak highly enough about Marcus. He’s a wonderful man and he’s a great player and I think tonight again he’s shown that he belongs on this stage.”


Historic win over world champions not enough to see Tunisia progress

Historic win over world champions not enough to see Tunisia progress
Updated 30 November 2022

Historic win over world champions not enough to see Tunisia progress

Historic win over world champions not enough to see Tunisia progress
  • Australia’s 1-0 victory over Denmark means North African nation yet to reach the knockout stages of World Cup

DOHA: A stunning goal from Wahbi Khazri may have been enough to give the Carthage Eagles a heroic 1-0 victory over reigning champions France on Wednesday, but it was not enough to send the team into the latter stages of the World Cup for the first time.

While the win, just the third in total at the competition and a first against European opposition, was something to celebrate, Australia’s win over Denmark by the same scoreline means that Tunisia are heading home.

That was always the danger. Tunisia, bottom of the group before kickoff with just one point, needed nothing less than a win to have a chance of finally making it to the latter stages, at the sixth time of asking.

Even victory was not going to be a guarantee of progress, however, as there was still the other game in the group to contend with.

An Australian victory would send the Socceroos through. As well as needing to win, Tunisia wanted the other two to draw. The promised land always seemed far away.

Coach Jalel Kadri promised that he would resign if the team failed to progress, but he will not need an extended period of reflection to know that his team’s dreams were dashed by lack of firepower.

It had been obvious all through the competition. The opening 0-0 draw with Denmark was a fine, battling performance against a team ranked 10th in the world. It provided a solid platform for the second, and on paper most winnable, game against Australia.

Falling behind to a fine header from Mitchell Duke midway through the first half, Tunisia were unable to penetrate the defense of the hardworking Socceroos, and while the display was decent, there was a lack of bite in the final third.

That failure to score ultimately cost Tunisia their dream as it meant that their destiny was in the hands of others.

The effort was certainly there against France. After the disappointment of Saturday’s defeat, it was a revitalized version of Tunisia that tore at Les Bleus from the start.

A free-kick in the eighth minute was swung in by Khazri and guided home acrobatically by Nader Ghandri, only for the player to be correctly judged offside.

It was nevertheless encouraging for the North Africans and a warning for the French who, already through, made nine changes from their 2-1 win over Denmark.

Tunisia continued to make most of the running at Education City Stadium, even in the second half. The North Africans had won just two previous games at the World Cup but never stopped working hard in trying to make it three.

The goal duly arrived just before the hour thanks to Khazri, who ran at a static French defense before striking the ball past stand-in goalkeeper Steve Mandanda.

It was the last act of the game for the exhausted star, who was then taken off, but he had given his team something to defend.

And yet, within moments, the news came through that Australia had taken the lead against Denmark and retaken second place in the group.

If that was not enough, Kylian Mbappe entered the fray for France and started running at the tiring Tunisian defense.

Tunisia held on despite a late strike from Antoine Greizmann, which was ruled out by VAR.

But by time it was chalked off, Australia had advanced and Tunisia denied.

The wait for the knockout stages will continue until 2026 at least, but if a goalscorer can be found in the meantime, the country may then finally make the promised land.