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Pierre's World Cup Diary

BATTLE OF THE MUEZZINS

GAME 16, GROUP H, JUNE 14, 2006 --MUNICH LIVE BLOGGING NOW
TUNISIA 2, SAUDI ARABIA 2
FINAL

Click here for Dizzy Gillsepie's great "Night in Tunisia"

This should truly, truly be fun: Here's a dispatch from Arab News, Saudi Arabia's English-language daily, a usually dour-sounding newspaper:

"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..." Read the rest here...

Remember 1978? Tunisia beat Argentina, who would end up winning that World Cup, 3-1. It is Tunisia's one and only win in World Cup games. The country has qualified the last two World Cups, and this year it has two naturalized Brazilian players (dos Santos is not in the starting line-up today) and a French coach to try to improve on its World Cup record. African teams haven't done well so far in Germany. This is their last hope. Beating Saudi Arabia seemed like their only chance, but with Ukraine's dismal performance earlier today, who knows. As for the Saudis: Look out for Number 10, the “Baby Maradona” of Saudi football, Mohammad el-Shalhoub. He can run, he can score, he can excite. But can the Saudis keep from humiliating themselves the way they did in an 8-0 loss to Germany four years ago, where they didn’t win a match? They didn’t lose a game in qualifiers, but they had an easy time of it against teams like Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kuwait. The Sons of the Desert are going to need more than luck to pull it off.

5... Good to see the old man of Saudi goalkeeping giving his Preparation-H a chance to set in as he looks in from the bench.

7... It took Tunisia a long long time to make its way downfield, with a couple of nifty plays (including a sweet back-heel pass) but all for what? an off-side give-away.

So far, all Tunisia...

9... Karim Haggui just took a corner kick for a header close to goal. Just wide. But he also clears the ball unnecessarily giving the Saudis a throw-in deep in the Tunisian half, where Saudis almost made something happen with a header. Now it's back to a Tunis attack.

10 Minutes in, we see a Tunisian offensive line that's better organized than Saudi's, which has been non-existent so far, but we also see some spotty defending on Tunisia's part when they're facing what Saudis can muster by way of attacks. Saudis can score on Tunisian mistakes; Tunisia can score on its sheer strength.

13... Don't believe the stupid well-meaning commentators: The Saudi teram may have renovated its hotel in Germany to make it seem as if they're abiding by their Taliban-rules against drinking and carousing, but take it from an old Beiruti: When Saudis travel, they party raunchy and rich. Many a Lebanese lady of the night has afforded herself a few payments on her BMW thanks to Saudi lust unbound. Germany's "sex parkings" will have a field day with more than a few Saudis.

17 Meanwhile the Saudis had themselves a couple of chances that they squandered for trying to show-off instead of trying to pump the ball where it may do some damage: shortish passes to no end.

21... Southern Baptists should have fun empathizing with Saudis here: same social rules, same constrictions, though Saudis have one big, big davantage over southern Baptists in the eyes of Allah: they play football, these Sons of the Desert, and as we all know Allah is a very big football fan.

22... GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL TUNISIA! GREAT GREAT HIGH-KICKING HIGH-SPIRITED GOAL!

What a beautiful shot, what perfect timing by Jaziri. It began with a Tunisia free kick some 30 yards out, flyiong into the penalty box, a Saudi heads it for a clear, but it's a bad clear, the ball bounced in the middle of the box, a perfect set up for Jaziri's right boot, which lifted, reared, shot, you could see it going in even as he shot it, it was that unquestionable, unstoppable. Terrific, 1-0 Tunisia.

30... A lot of bad balls for both teams now in the last several minutes: disorganization in midfield, slow going at both ends when they reach them.

Saud isn't being outplayed as it was in the first 15 minutes of the game, and now it's become a game of errors on both sides. But neither side is taking advantage. The pace, minute after minute, has slowed. These two teams speak the same language--and play the same language too. More goals coming, by default rather than design.

35... Tunisia gets a yellow just outside its box, Saud has a free kick. Can they capitalize? Shot taken, but a Tunisian gets hiomself another yellow for rushing the kicker too soon, and on the second shot, nice direct fire at the keeper, who saves it.

38... Them Saudis have dangerous ways of defending their kingdom. Aren't they worried about own goals? Their headers are just not working. Their corner defense is full of holes.

41... Poor play, middling excitement the last few minutes. The game is turning into a soccer-American-football hybrid: there's been that many collisions, take-downs, head-bashings, grass-mashing, and here come Saudi with an attack that stalls ten yards out from the Tunisia box, shot taken, sailing very long. Injury time.

So, at the half, we have a fun start to a promising game that gave us a couple of flashy plays worthy of a muezzin's celebration, but after that Tunisian goal we've been treated to a game of errors, choppiness and totally absent finishes. How many shots on goal this whole match? Six, and just three in the Meccan vicinities that count. Hopefully they'll spend some of their half-time imbibing a couple of capuccinos.

Second Half...

Saud come out screaming, but again unable to finish, like Noor flicking a boal in front of goal, improbably, away from it. Noor, by the way, means light: the Saudi game does look slightly brighter here.

51... Free kick for Saud just outsode the box, nicely done by Al Temyat, but just wide. Tunisia, energetic, on the ball, but again playing into turn-overs.

56. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL SAUDI ARABIA!

It wasn't wizzardry; it was perfect execution: a long pass down the right wing, a perfect cross into the penalty box, and there to take the shot was Al Khatani, slamming the ball in the upper net for the equalizer. It was as if Tunisia was nowhere on the field.

And given how the Saudis thanked god afterward, we now know where Mecca is in relation to the Munich stadium

62... The sons of the desert are heating up the stadium with attack after attack, but Tunisia is finally putting a few strides together as well. Wide, wide shot there. Three shots on goal in two minutes for the two teams. The game is alive again.

70... Or did I speak too soon? We're back to midfield mumbles.

71... Some nice buildup on Tunisia's part, short, brisk passes that evade every Saudi foot all the way into the Saudi box, but then the usual stumble into easy turn-overs, and the Saudi goalie is down and squirming, seemingly from a collision with his own defender. He's in pain. We may yet see the old man in goal!

76... Decidedly not an exciting game, not even in its tactical ramifications for the group; we've had 14 shots from both teams so far, and just 4 on goal As always with second-division teams playing each other, a tie will not help them. It'll only help the stronger teams in the group--in this case, disastrous Ukraine and and its obliterator, Spain.

Here's ... GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL SAUDI!

39... Terrific show from one end of the field to the other for the Saudis: they took control of the ball deep in their own half, moved it up in four passes, slight criss-crosses until one final, pin-point pass from midfield to a running Sami al-Jaber on the other side of the field, he had nothing but green in front of him, and a flummoxed keeper, he weaved, he evaded the keeper, who went sprawling, he shot, and into the corner went the ball. This was a goal. This was team play. This was redemption. 2-1 Saudi Arabia... Al-Jaber, incidentally, is playing in his fourth World Cup.

78 Tunisia almost equalized with a screamer dead-on from outside the box, just above the crossbar. Only when the ball hit the stands did the keeper realize he'd just missed a missile flying by.

90... The Saudis have their victory. An almost 3-1 lead too! a free kick off by an inch

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL TUNISIA IN INJURY TIME!

A DRAMATIC FINISH FOR BOTH TEAMS! Beautiful goals, rollercoaster action despite the lousy play in the middle of each half. Neither team has shown more than an ability to capitalize on the other team's mistakes--of which there were many, many to go around. That means neither team has what it takes to beat either Ukraine or Spain, and a tie has not helped them make the case for Cinderella-toeing their way to the second round. Too bad, but fun for us in the end. This day is turning into a day of goals, even as both Saudi Arabia and Tunisia may have seen the last of their glory in this World Cup. Allah be praised: Even he was rolling in his heavens.

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