SAITAMA, Japan, AP
Despite losing to Cameroon and becoming the first team eliminated from the World Cup, Saudi Arabia’s squad was in a positive mood Thursday night.
Small wonder why.
After its humiliating 8-0 opening game loss to Germany last Saturday, the team showed a dramatic improvement against Cameroon, holding the African champions at bay for 65 minutes before Samuel Eto’o gave Cameroon a 1-0 victory.
The result left the Saudis with no points from two games, with nine goals conceded and none scored. That makes it impossible for them to catch Group E leaders Germany and Cameroon — on four points each — no matter the result of their last first-round game against Ireland.
“The result is maybe disappointing, but we really put the Cameroon side in the corner. They have so many players that play in Europe, while the Saudi team, on the other hand, are without any professional players, yet we still got this result,” said Saudi midfielder Hussein Sulimani.
“After the 8-0 defeat from Germany, there was a really negative feeling,” Sulimani added, “but we proved tonight our potential, we proved we are men.”
The Saudis looked like a completely different side from the team that lost Saturday. They worked hard at the start, fighting for every ball and defending tenaciously as the Cameroon team labored to find an opening.
As the game went on and the players’ confidence grew, the Saudis started to relax and pass the ball around, looking dangerous on some well-worked counterattacks and putting together some excellent passing in midfield.
The cause of this improvement: Pure anger after the Germany game, said Abdullah Sulaiman Zubromawi.
“Sure we were angry. Within ourselves we knew we can play better than the way we did in the first game and today we really wanted to show what we can do. … Now we want to play even better in the next game.”
For that match, the Saudis seem set to be without captain and star striker Sami Al-Jaber, who missed Thursday’s game because of injury.
After the match, Al-Jaber told reporters he had a knee ligaments injury and would likely be out “for two to three weeks.”
Despite Al-Jaber’s absence and the side’s elimination from contention, coach Nasser Al Johar said the team was confident it could come away with a good result against Ireland next Tuesday.
“We promise that we’ll do our best in the final match in order to give the real picture of Saudi football (soccer) and to say goodbye to the World Cup in a good way,” said the coach, who thanked his players for showing “the world that we play good football.”
Asked if he would quit at the end of the competition, despite promises by Saudi soccer authorities that they would not fire him, Al Johar said only: “I will be in Saudi Arabia and I’m not going anywhere.”