After shipping five goals against hosts Russia – the lowest-ranked team in the World Cup, Saudi Arabia could probably do with facing a rival other than South American powerhouse Uruguay and its star forward Luis Suarez.
On Wednesday, the two Group A teams will face off in Rostov-on-Don, with Uruguay hoping to appease some worries after only beating Egypt 1-0 thanks to a late goal.
Bizarrely, two-time World Cup champions Uruguay have never beaten the ‘Green Falcons’; Saudi Arabia won a friendly in 2002 while a 2014 friendly ended in a draw.
In another potential source of reassurance for the perennially underachieving Saudis, the usually ruthless Suarez missed three chances against Egypt on Friday in their opening game.
But Group A favourites Uruguay are still widely expected to clobber Saudi Arabia, the second-lowest World Cup team in the FIFA rankings at No. 67.
Nevertheless, the South Americans are guarding against complacency. Asked by a reporter whether beating the Saudis would essentially guarantee passing the group stage, defender Jose Gimenez pushed back.
“Easy, easy. We need to keep a cool head. We know that any game here is very hard, and we need to think of it that way. I think that if Uruguay do things right we have a lot of chances of passing,” said Gimenez, who scored the 89th-minute header against Egypt.
Saudi Arabia seem unlikely to emulate the surprisingly strong performances of underdogs Mexico and Switzerland, and the players themselves seem to be preparing the ground for another defeat.
“There is no doubt that facing the Uruguayan team is difficult and that it is known for its international stars, but we are determined to improve our image from the previous match and the joy of the Saudi fans,” said Saudi Arabia midfielder Taisir Al-Jassim.
A victory may cement Uruguay’s position as the group’s leaders, lining them most probably for a tough second-round clash against Spain or Portugal.
If history is anything to go by, Saudi Arabia’s Argentine-born coach Juan Antonio Pizzi could become the next coaching casualty if Saudi authorities react with the anger displayed after past defeats.
The Saudis gave Carlos Alberto Parreira the chop after a 4-0 loss to hosts France in the group stages in 1998 – even though four years earlier he had won the World Cup with his native Brazil.