Saudi Arabia drew 0-0 with the USA in Spain on Thursday, delivering a performance that was certainly an improvement over the stalemate with Ecuador four days earlier and probably their best in any of the four friendlies since their successful World Cup qualification campaign concluded.
It is true that they failed to score for a fourth game in a row but the Green Falcons more than held their own against a team that included a number of stars who play in the big European leagues.
Coach Herve Renard had a few reasons to be quietly satisfied with the performance in Murcia, given that in addition to a number of long-term absences, the his team were also without the injured quartet of star player Salem Al-Dawsari, captain Salman Al-Faraj, marauding full-back Yasser Al-Shahrani and goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais, the hero of the 0-0 draw with Ecuador last Friday.
This gave the French boss an opportunity to take a look at some other players in his squad and while it was not the most exciting of games, he will not be too displeased with what he saw.
While the goalless draw with the South Americans four days ago was mainly down to the efforts of Al-Owais, the clean sheet on Tuesday was the result of a solid defensive performance from the whole team, who stayed compact and worked hard to deny the likes of Christian Pulisic of Chelsea clear sight of goal.
The Saudis struggled to get shots on target four days ago but this time, in an almost empty stadium, their first attempt came inside 30 seconds, forcing Arsenal goalkeeper Matt Turner to get down quickly to push away a well-struck snap shot by Sultan Al-Ghannam from outside the area.
This spurred the Americans, who lost 2-0 to Japan on Friday, into action but the Saudi defense coped with the attacks reasonably well, even if there was a threat of the high defensive line being breached.
The men in blue were in control from a possession point of view but struggled to create clear chances, and so it was Saudi Arabia who next had the best sight of goal, just before the half-hour mark, when they were awarded a free-kick in a dangerous position just outside the area, only for Hattan Bahebri to fire over.
Minutes later, the Greens should have taken the lead from the best chance of the game for either side. Firas Al-Buraikan won possession on the right side and found Haitham Asiri, who was not long on the pitch after replacing Sami Al-Najei. He reached the byline and found Bahebri on the edge of the six-yard box, where the Al-Shabab forward had a chance to shoot but instead opted to pass and the Americans were able to clear the danger.
All in all, it was a solid first half, with the USA, who are preparing for their first World Cup appearance since 2014, having 50 percent more of the possession than Saudi Arabia but, in terms of quality and quantity of chances, the Asian team were more than holding their own.
Renard’s men made a bright start to the second half as they looked for chances down the left, with Saud Abdulhamid and Bahebri in particular working hard. But despite balls being whipped into the area there was nobody in the middle to get on the end of the crosses and when the attacking moves came from central areas, the final ball was not quite there.
Still, as the game reached the hour mark, Saudi Arabia were just about on top against a team growing increasingly frustrated at their inability not only to score but to create clear chances.
Then the 2002 quarter-finalists had their best opportunity. Jesus Ferreira took advantage of a defensive mix-up to shoot from just inside the area, only for Mohammed Al-Yami, who did not have many saves to make, to get down quickly and smother the danger.
With 20 minutes remaining, it was Turner’s turn to push away a well-struck shot from Asiri. The Saudis continued to attack but could not quite find a way through. There was more frustration when centre-back Abdulelah Al-Amri’s close-range header from a corner went high.
Saudi Arabia continued to make most of the running in an attacking sense but were unable to capitalize and their disappointment was complete when Nawaf Al-Abed fired over from the edge of the area in the final moments when he had options to pass.
The dry spell in front of goal has now stretched to 385 minutes and is certainly a major cause for concern. However, with the big games in Qatar against Argentina, Poland and Mexico only two months away, there were also some signs of improvement.