Monday, second game ticket. Probably the last, Ukraine vs. Saudi Arabia. In their first game against Tunisia the Saudis played remarkably well. They are certainly capable of applying pressure up front and occasionally pull together some really pretty soccer. This was true against the Ukraine as well, nearly scoring on several occasions. Unfortunately, the defense, quite porous against Tunisia and rarely winning in the air, remained weak. A keeper error placed the ball in a dangerous area, which Ukraine capitalized on. Then the goalie slipped in an effort to block a shot from the outside. Well placed, I don’t think he would have gotten to it anyhow, but it certainly takes a team down. The other two goals were clinical, Ukraine 4 SA 0 in a mediocre match.
After the fourth goal nearly all of the green began leaving the stands. We were sitting near the main Saudi section and it emptied out. I understood their pain, the hope of the World Cup is dramatic and to face a loss worse than the US against Czech (apparently the loss by which embarassments are measured) is traumatic even for young teams.
Leaving, I was a Saudi supporter leaning against a wall, hugging a girl. He was crying inside the stadium, wrapped in his country’s flag.
Four years is a long time, I wonder what this cup could mean for Saudi Arabian soccer, or for Saudi Arabia itself. For the USA, it only means something for American soccer(?), whether the tide rises or falls, how much athletic companiesand media pay attention to our sport. But here, soccer is steadily growing. The 21st century will not be the century of gridiron football. US soccer may not overcome, but others may, lacrosse perhaps.
Yet for Saudi Arabia there could be more. A new passion. A unifying force that brings their people closer to the world as well as each other. And their leaders fear it and their people cry for it.