Owairan dash vaults Saudis into Round 2 WORLD CUP 1994

June 30, 1994|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- If Majed Mohammed is the Desert Pele, what title will be lofty enough for Saudi Arabia to bestow upon Saeed Owairan?

Mohammed, a 35-year-old with 118 international goals, is the hero of Saudi soccer past. Owairan, 26, owns the present and a nice chunk of the future, however, thanks to a 60-yard -- yesterday that upset Belgium, 1-0, lifted Saudi Arabia to new heights and provided the 15th World Cup with one of its most magical moments.

"This goal means nothing for me," Owairan said. "I scored it for every Saudi and Arab person."

As much as Muslim law allows, the nation of 16 million was partying from the Red Sea to the Persian Gulf last night after Owairan's goal in the fifth minute and a series of near-misses by the Belgians over the next 85 advanced Saudi Arabia to the round of 16 in its first World Cup.

The Saudis are the first team from the World Cup's Asian region to advance past the first round in 28 years, and this accomplishment is a tad bigger than their reaching the final of the 1992 Asian Cup or the World Under-16 title they claimed in 1989.

Three teams finished 2-1 in Group F, and the assorted tie-breaking procedures placed the Netherlands first, Saudi Arabia second and Belgium third. Saudi Arabia will play Sweden in Dallas on Sunday, and Belgium gets defending champion Germany in Chicago on Saturday or the Group D winner, most likely Argentina, in Foxboro, Mass., on Tuesday.

The Belgians also deserve a kick in the pants for taking lightly a team that had frightened the Netherlands nine days earlier. Coach Paul Van Himst benched two regulars at the start so as not to endanger their status for the round of 16. Before the game, the coach spoke of a readiness to return to Florida, where the winner of Group F -- now the Netherlands -- would play its next game.

Owairan disrupted plenty of travel plans with maybe the best individual display of the World Cup to date. He received the ball in the defensive end, dribbled past one Belgian player at midfield, another one 30 yards from the goal, then finally danced through two converging defenders in the penalty area and beat goalkeeper Michel Preud'homme.

"It's the best goal I ever scored," said Owairan, who was barefoot and on the bench when the Saudi celebration started for real, because he was taken out in the 61st minute. "My teammates went left and right, and it left the middle wide open for me. I just made some of my moves."

Perhaps only 30,000 fans among the announced crowd of 52,959 had settled into their seats at RFK Stadium when Owairan unleashed his one-man counterattack.

It was the first goal allowed in the World Cup by Belgium, which had designs on being the first team to go 3-0. The Belgians had a 26-12 advantage in shots and took 12 corner kicks, but goalkeeper Mohammed Al Deayea, 21, handled everything sent his way.

"The team expected to get a point [at least a tie] today, and we're very disappointed," said Van Himst, the Belgian coach. "The turning point was the goal that was given away. We played a side that was dangerous on the counterattack, and as a result, we lost the game. It's going to be very tough for us to beat Germany or Argentina [in the round of 16]."

Belgium came here with a low profile, and any publicity surrounding Saudi Arabia usually centered on the role played by the ruling family, which is expected to make the $3,000 bonus the players earned for beating Morocco look like chump change. The Saudi players were tardy for the postgame news conference, first having to visit with two princes.

"If you remember, I told you we would take second place in our group," said Saudi Arabia coach Jorge Solari. "Even though it wasn't expected by many people, we delivered what we promised. I dedicate this victory to the king."

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