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All Eyes on Saudi-Tunisian Clash

JEDDAH, 14 June 2006 — World Cup fever has gripped the Kingdom with well-known Jeddah socialites even postponing and delaying society dinners and engagement parties to be able to watch important games, including yesterday’s Brazil versus Croatia match.

With many Saudis glued to their television screens it seems roads, shopping malls and markets are coming to a standstill when tournament favorites such as Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Spain, Holland and France battle it out to take the World Cup home. Tonight at 7 p.m., Saudi Arabia take on Tunisia in Munich in what is expected to be a nail-biting event as the Kingdom watches with bated breath to see how their side fares.

The Saudi national team has previously played Tunisia only once. In 1988 the two teams drew 1-1 at the fifth Arab Cup in Jordan. Fans from both countries are looking forward to see what the end result of tonight’s match will be.

Many Saudis are considering the game to be another historical day in the Kingdom’s sporting history as the Saudi national team appears for the eleventh match in the World Cup.

Saudi striker Sami Al-Jaber told a press conference in Munich on Monday that the Saudi team’s performance against Tunisia would give fans an idea of how the team will play in coming matches. Al-Jaber also announced that this would be his last year playing for the national team.

Hussain Abdulghani Al-Sulaimani, another Saudi player, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) that there are points of strength and weaknesses in both teams. He said: “One of the advantages the Tunisian side has is that the majority of players (unlike Saudi Arabia) are of an international caliber.”

Al-Sulaimani said the Tunisian team only met for training a few days before the World Cup started whereas the Saudi side had been training for quite some time now. Al-Sulaimani believes this may be something that may tilt the balance in favor of the Saudi team.

According to Abdulmajeed Muslih, sport reporter at Al-Chourouk Daily in Tunis, Tunisian football fans are equally eager to see Tunisia face Saudi Arabia. Muslih said the Saudi side has talented fast moving players but a weak defense.

According to Muslih, the Tunisian team lacks skills in playing solo but is an experienced side, especially since many of the players play internationally. Muslih wished best for both teams and added that he expects the match will be filled with enthusiasm and excitement, ending with a 0-0 or 1-0 in favor of Tunisia. Munia Loferli, a journalist at the Assabah Daily in Tunisia, said she hoped the match would bring happiness to both Arab countries. She also added that Tunisia’s chances of winning were much better than Saudi Arabia’s.

Something which may help Saudi Arabia win is the fact that the Brazilian-born Tunisian player Santos will be missing the match after being hurt in a friendly game against a German select side last week. According to Tunisian sport commentators the Tunisian side is afraid of playing without Santos but nevertheless feels confident of winning the match.

Adel Essam-Aldine, director at the Saudi Sport Channel and sports writer at the Asharq Al-Awsat daily, said he felt mildly optimistic about today’s match on account of each of the two teams’ strengths. Essam-Aldine added that if the Saudi side played with the spirit of 1994, they might be able to carry the day.

Sports writer at Al-Eqtisadiah Abdurrahman Al-Khair said the Tunisians were a skillful and experienced side that had played abroad something that could help them win.

The Saudi national team has so far only scored seven goals in previous World Cup tournaments, five of which were scored in 1994 and two in 1998. A total of 25 goals have been scored against the side — six in the World Cup of 1994, seven in 1998 and 12 in 2002.

Saudi Arabia played four times in the 1994 World Cup. They lost 2-1 against Holland and Morocco and beat Belgium 1-0. This qualified them to enter the second round where they lost to Sweden 3-1.

In the 1998 World Cup ,Saudi Arabia played three matches. They lost 0-1 to Denmark, 0-4 to France and drew 2-2 with South Africa.

When the World Cup was held in Korea and Japan in 2002, Saudi Arabia embarrassingly lost their first match to Germany 0-8, 0-1 to Cameroon and 0-3 to Ireland.

Tunisia’s overall performance has been somewhat better. Tunisia won 3-1 in their first ever World Cup match against Mexico in 1978, 1-0 in 1998 against Romania and 1-0 against Belgium in 2002.

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