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Analysis: Saudi Arabia fall to Uruguay despite improved performance

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Rostov-on-Don: Saudi Arabia put in a solid performance in their second 2018 FIFA World Cup match but an error from goalkeeper Mohammed Al Owais gifted Uruguay the winner on Wednesday.

Salem Aldawsari of Saudi Arabia tries to shake off Uruguay's Rodrigo Bentancur.

Following the 5-0 defeat by Russia in the opening match, Juan Antonio Pizzi made four changes to his starting line up, bringing on goalkeeper Mohammed Al Owais for Abdullah Al Mayouf, centre-back Ali Al Bulaihi for Omar Hawsawi, winger Hattan Bahebri for Yahya Al Shehri and striker Fahad Al Muwallad for Mohammed Al Sahlawi.

The changes produced a much-improved performance from Saudi Arabia as a solitary Luis Suarez strike was the difference at the final whistle.

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Al Muwallad Isolated

Of the four changes made by Pizzi, the introduction of Al Muwallad was perhaps the most predictable. A frustrating outing against Russia meant Al Sahlawi was bound to be left on the bench for the Uruguay clash.

Rather than being a like-for-like option, Al Muwallad is a pacey winger, whose speed on the counter and ability to find pockets of space in the attacking third helped him score crucial goals, including the winner against Japan in the final qualification match.

Against Uruguay, the 23-year-old struggled as he was left isolated up front against two imposing centre-backs. Standing at just 168 cm, Al Muwallad lost every aerial duel against the 185cm-tall Jose Gimenez and 187cm Diego Godin. And despite spending most of his time in the opposition box (see above heatmap), he failed to take a single shot all game.

Familiar faults

Of the five goals conceded against Russia, three came from crosses or set-pieces, and it was a weakness the team largely managed to address in their second World Cup outing as Uruguay only succeeded in delivering four of their 13 attempted crosses.

Despite Saudi Arabia’s improvement on this front, one of the four successful crosses eluded goalkeeper Al Owais and landed at the feet of Suarez who was left with a simple finish in the 23rd minute.

Al Owais’ failure to reach the ball after deciding to come out of his goal, the absence of any marking on Uruguay’s main marksman and lack of bodies at the far post were three key errors that combined to gift Uruguay the goal that proved to be the difference at the final whistle. Pizzi would not be pleased with that.

Dangermen neutralised

Saudi Arabia’s centre-back pair Osama Hawsawi and Al Bulaihi were on top form as they kept tabs on Suarez and Edinson Cavani for the entire 90 minutes.

A momentary lapse in concentration was punished instantly by the Barcelona man, but Suarez only mustered one shot on target for the rest of the game, a free-kick that was rescued by Al Owais despite an awkward deflection off the wall.

Cavani’s night was even quieter as he recorded one effort on goal, three blocked shots and three off-target. Despite playing only his fifth international game, Al Bulahi added much needed steel to the backline following last week’s calamity; his nine defensive actions (see above map) kept danger away and contributed to a resilient defensive showing on the night.

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