Saudis used to looking gift horse in the mouth WORLD CUP 1994

June 21, 1994|By Ron Rapoport | Ron Rapoport,Los Angeles Daily News

WASHINGTON -- They came in orange wigs, with orange-powdered hair, wearing orange felt cowboy hats and orange wooden shoes.

All right, the shoes were plastic, really. So sue me.

What they came for -- all these fans who had made the trip from Holland and who had come to RFK Stadium in their favorite color -- was what was supposed to be the easiest of World Cup victories over Saudi Arabia.

All that desert oil money had bought the Saudis a good Argentine coach, it is true, and it had built an elegant new no-expense-spared stadium in Riyadh. The Saudis had even brought over their own private team to practice against as they tuned up for the World Cup the past couple of weeks.

Nor have the Saudi players themselves had anything to complain about.

"Gifts are a part of our culture," says Saudi Prince Bander, his country's ambassador to the United States, of the money, cars and other perks that are lavished on his country's national team. "It's a sign of appreciation. I can assure you that our athletes are no more pampered than the Dallas Cowboys."

But beat Holland? The Saudis have been running through coaches at a rapid clip lately, but not even Jimmy Johnson could have been expected to pull that one off.

Holland came into this game touted as one of the strongest teams in the World Cup tournament. Its depth of talent and attacking style made it an extremely popular team, one many people thought might very well win the whole thing.

So what was supposed to happen at RFK Stadium last night was that Holland would blow away the Saudis like so many grains of lTC sand. The Dutch would move easily into the second round, while the Saudis were going to have to be content with merely taking part.

And by rights, that is what should have happened here. Holland controlled the ball, attacked constantly, outshot Saudi Arabia 29-9 and showed why it is such a highly regarded team in every area except one.

The scoreboard.

Saudi Arabia scored first when Fuad Amin put in a header in the 19th minute and took a 1-0 lead at halftime. Holland fought back to tie five minutes after the intermission on a straight-on shot by Wim Jonk and, as the game wore down into the final five minutes, it appeared the Dutch were going to have to settle for a mortifying tie.

Then along came the broad plane of Gaston Taument's forehead to save the day.

Tell us, Gaston, exactly where did you hit the ball that saved Holland such acute embarrassment by giving it a 2-1 victory in the first game for both teams.

"Right here," Taument replied, pointing to a spot on his forehead equidistant between his flowing Miles Davis dreadlocks. "Eyes closed."

The fact that it was Taument who scored the winning goal in the 86th minute of the game was as big a surprise as the fact that it was so necessary so late. For one thing, he didn't start the game because he had the flu. And for another, scoring goals is not exactly his style.

"I was very surprised," said Taument, who took a pass from Frank De Boer at the right side of the goal and headed it in past Saudi goalie Mohammed Al Deayea, who had inexplicably come out of the net. "The ball popped up from the ground. I had to look at the referee before I realized I'd scored. It was like a dream. I'm not a big scorer. I'm more for assists, looking for somebody to give it to. But not that time."

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