Momentum deserts Saudis in 2-1 defeat WORLD CUP 1994

June 21, 1994|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Gaston Taument shut his eyes and Saudi Arabia's bid for one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history.

Saudi Arabia, as poor in soccer tradition as it is rich in oil, turned the World Cup on its head for a half last night and entered the final 40 minutes with a 1-0 lead on the mighty Netherlands at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.

Less than five minutes from the end, the Saudis were still contemplating a 1-1 tie that would have made the upset work of the 1969 Mets and 1980 U.S. ice hockey team look ho-hum by comparison, but Taument turned a Saudi Arabian blunder into a goal and a face-saving 2-1 victory for The Netherlands.

Despite several thousand empty seats, an announced crowd of a near-capacity 52,385 watched the Group F opener, and for much of the match they were treated to the prospect of an upset the magnitude of which the World Cup probably hadn't seen since 1966, when a group of North Korean soldiers beat Italy.

Making its World Cup debut, Saudi Arabia is No. 34 in the FIFA rankings and next-to-last among the 24 World Cup teams, while The Netherlands is No. 2, behind only defending-champion Germany.

The Netherlands, underachievers in recent World Cups, got the equalizer on powerful 25-yard shot by Wim Jonk in the 50th minute, and order was restored in the 86th minute, when the 24-year-old Taument profited from positioning and luck.

Frank de Boer sent a cross from the left side to the top of the penalty area, where a teammate, a defender and Saudi Arabian goalkeeper Mohammed Al Deayea converged. None changed the ball's direction, and Taument cleaned up for his second international goal.

"I closed my eyes when the ball came to me," said Taument, a right wing who entered the game with 33 minutes to go. "I didn't dare believe it was a goal. This is a feeling I've never had."

Al Deayea wasn't quite as chipper. "This is the most difficult lesson I've ever had in my life," said the Saudi Arabian goalkeeper, who blanked the United States in an exhibition a month ago. "I should have stayed in the goal."

The Netherlands had a 29-9 edge in shots, but it was Saudi Arabia that fired the shot heard at least halfway around the world in the 12th minute.

The genesis of the Saudi Arabian goal was a hard Dutch foul on forward Saeed Owairan to the right of the penalty area. Fahad Al Bishi sent the free kick onto a line of team mates, and the second man, Fuad Amin, sent a header through a flat-footed Dutch defense and inside the right post.

Saudi Arabia, which backed out of plans to practice at Catonsville Community College, trained in relative secrecy in New Jersey and in Washington. For the Netherlands, Amin's goal was a rude introduction to a team whose players, on the publicity front, take a back seat to a ruling family which finds the time to run Saudi soccer in addition to the nation.

Jorge Solari, the Argentine who was hired to coach Saudi Arabia in February, pulled limping forward Majed Mohammed just before halftime and replaced the most renowned player in the nation's history with a defensive midfielder, but the Dutch didn't care if he used 10 defenders.

"Saudi Arabia played better in the first 30 minutes," Dutch coach Dick Advocaat said, "but the second half was totally different."

Advocaat had five reserves warming up on the sidelines as the second half started, and the 11 on the field got the message. Taument, one of only two to enter in the second half, lost a chance to make an impression when a 102-degree fever kept him out of a recent exhibition against Canada, but he was a savior last night.

WORLD CUP TODAY

First round * Argentina vs. Greece at Foxboro, Mass., 12:35 p.m., ESPN

Germany vs. Spain at Chicago, 4:05 p.m., ESPN

* Nigeria vs. Bulgaria at Dallas, 7:35 p.m., ESPN2

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