And here’s the match report:
That’s all we have time for today but keep an eye out for a match report which will land shortly, followed by some analysis a little later in the day. Catch you in June.
And on that looming UAE match?
“Now the boys have to go back to their clubs and work hard,” Arnold said. “It’s dis we didn’t qualify directly.”
Important to note that Australia will have back at least some of the players they were missing for part or all of this window including Tom Rogic, Aaron Mooy, Mat Leckie, Jackson Irvine and Jamie Maclaren.
And here he is, shouting over the noise of the heaving King Abdullah Sports City Stadium and flanked by strobing lights piercing through darkness. Moody, if you will. Did he get what he was looking for?
“I did get it,” he says, “The young boys, Atkinson and Genreau, did very well. Jeggo stepped up, Stensness. We’ve been creating depth as we’re trying to win games and the depth is coming.”
On the offside ruling:
“We haven’t seemed to get any VAR decisions. I haven’t seen it but I have heard it’s very, very close. But at the end of the day another shit penalty, pretty disappointing.”
Saudi, by virtue of this win and Japan’s draw with Vietnam, has finished top of Group B, with Australia third ahead of Oman, China and Vietnam. Group A’s automatic qualifiers are Iran and South Korea while the UAE, as we already know, are third.
Few stats from the match while we wait for Arnold to speak.
May I be so bold as to predict the talking points from the Australian side?
There will be a feeling the Socceroos were robbed by that first-half VAR decision, a legitimate claim based on the evidence and the length of time it took to decide Boyle had been off when he picked up the pass in midfield and ran away to score.
Shortly thereafter will follow renewed calls for Arnold’s head. Do Football Australia make the tough decision now to appoint a new manager to lead them through the playoffs in the hope a change will offer bounce? Or do they stick with the man they appointed almost four years ago in good faith?
My two cents? I won’t comment on the latter, but on the VAR decision I will sympathise, but also venture that Jeggo should not have given away that pen.
The fact that Mat Ryan has effectively been Australia’s player of this qualifying phase offers little confidence in the rest of those spots on the field. Those spots are being chopped and changed so much at the moment and the lack of overall cohesion has hurt this team.
For Australia, well. They must look to 7 June and that sudden-death playoff against the UAE. Based on this overall performance – here and against Japan last week – the Socceroos will be up against it. They have struggled to break down tough Asian defences and the UAE stopped them from doing so at the 2019 Asian Cup.
Full-time! Saudi Arabia 1-0 Australia
Australia embark on what will surely be one final passage of play but they don’t get the chance because the referee is blowing his whistle to end this dead rubber. It has been a joyride for Saudi Arabia, who are riffing off the Jeddah crowd. They had already qualified for the World Cup but this is their homecoming.
90+3 min Al-Dawsari is found some inner energy since his penalty goal and almost scores at the death. He is in the box, takes a touch with his left boot and thwacks it on the full with his right. It takes a deflection off an Australian player.
90 min Five minutes of added time means five minutes of Saudi taking their time. Al-Owais stands back and looks at the ball at his feet for a bit before kicking it long to Abdulhamid.
87 min Al Buraikin has been carried off on a stretcher but hops straight off it when it reaches the touchline. Youngster Saud Abdulhamid takes his place.
83 min A deft through ball from Tilio has Al-Owais off his line in a moment of spark from Australia. But they are soon chasing again on the counter as Al-Dawsari pushes into the box in search of a second goal to put this fixture to bed. He does not manage it, but the crowd love it anywhere. This stadium must be full. Genreau takes his leave for Mitchel Duke who, at 31, is decidedly not one of the “kids” Arnold was talking about playing tonight.
79 min A Saudi ball in behind from Abdulaziz Al-Bishi eevades Stensness, who is turned in the area. The ever-present Al-Dawsari whips around in front of goal and takes a shot that would be a sure thing but for Mat Ryan. That is regulation from Ryan but it is also reflex, and the No 1 once against saves Australia’s blushes.
76 min D’Agostino gets a cross in but Tambakti is alert to it and the centre-back ensures the danger is averted. Hrustic takes the subsequent corner, which he floats towards the back post. Al-Owais, leaps above the throng of bodies, sticks out a glove and punches it away.
72 min Australia plays down the right and Atkinson scoots in chase towards the byline. The ball is kept in but Boyle has fouled Al-Shahrani, just in time for Marco Tilio to make his entrance in place of Mabil, who has had a couple of bright moments but been otherwise relatively quiet.
68 mins Saudi are putting their foot on the accelerator now, hunting for another in front of a home crowd seemingly intent on recording their every move on their phones.
Goal! Saudi Arabia 1-0 Australia
65 min Al-Dawsari takes the spot kick and he does not miss. The ball is along the ground and tucks inside the right post. Ryan dives left. That’s that.
62 min Turns out he is OK. But Australia are not, because Saudi have a penalty! Jimmy Jeggo, in as he skipped, clipped the ankles of Sami Al-Najei and the referee was quick to call it. VAR has a quick look but it will stand, and fair enough.
60 min Al-Owais looks to have pulled something on his way down from said leap and play is stopped as he is tended to. Another three-minute break ensues.
57 min A lovely Saudi through ball has Saudi on the move down the left flank and it almost ends in a goal. They are opening up those wide channels with ease now. Up the other end, Mabil sends a fizzer of a shot at Al-Owais’s goal. The former has beaten Tambakti to cut inside and his flight on the ball forces the goalkeeper to leap and tip it over the bar.
53 min D’Agostino for mine is deserving of this opportunity. A tough selection call, because keeping Fornaroli on may have helped discern how he fits in the set-up leading into the first playoff against the UAE in June. But D’Agostino is in form and can perhaps help in transition against this Saudi defence. Boyle dives into a challenge and catches Al-Shahrani on his way through.
49 min On the note of forwards, they are missing a few, with Jamie Maclaren and Mat Leckie off getting married and avoiding another yellow card respectively. Saudi have a corner which amounts to little. They recycle. Al-Faraj takes a heavy touch but manages to hold onto the ball but possession is soon back with the Socceroos anyway.
46 min So, we all know what the main talking point will be post-match, regardless of what happens in the second half. But another might be around whether Fornaroli, hailed as the answer to Australia’s attacking woes, is indeed the answer. Arnold may be wondering this too because he has replaced him with Nicholas D’Agostino. What can the Melbourne Victory forward do?
Half-time! Saudi Arabia 0-0 Australia
45+4 min Well that was an interesting first 45. Australia should be a goal up but, apart from that disallowed goal, cannot land a shot on target. The Saudis are playing like a side who have already qualified.
46 min There are four minutes of added time, which is also a little mystifying given the VAR decision alone took longer than this. On the field, Mohammed Al-Breik is toying with Aziz Behich. Atkinson is fighting his own battle against Mohamed Kanno, who can move.
43 min Needless to say there will be a few minutes of stoppage-time added to this half. I have an updated report that the VAR actually took close to five minutes to make that decision.
Here is a closer look at it:
40 mins This is patience on display here as Saudi build from the back and Firas Al-Buraikan threatens in the box. Possession is turned over and oh! The Socceroos might be onto something here! A defence-splitting pass releases Boyle at the halfway line and it was never in doubt. Terrible defending from the home side, but there is question around whether he was offside at the point of that initial pass.
The VAR is taking a while, suggesting this might be one of those bee’s dick offside calls. They are splitting pixels in the cave and it has now been almost four minutes. The crowd are getting restless. The coaches are getting frustrated. Boyle is laighing and high-fiving an opponent. But he will not be awarded his sixth international goal.
32 min Australia have five shots, none on target, and one-third of possession, which sums up this half quite well so far in a way stats do not always. Saudi are content and comfortable to let their visitors play. Fornaroli is down under a challenge but dust himself off.
28 min Ajdin Hrustic, who was so good against Japan last week, has a free kick. It lofts up beautifully and is heading towards the top-left corner, but lands on the roof. Mabil opens up another channel, this time from left to right in the centre of the park and Boyle is onto it. Yet again an Australian attack ends with a shot which rolls marginally wide of the back post.
24 min Genreau darts down the left flank, an audacious move from his (slightly defensive) midfield role. Australia have been decent going forward. They are creating. They are not finishing, but the foundations are there to get something out of this game. They just need to tighten up around the midfield.
The Saudi coach, Hervé Renard, is offering his players some unorthodox gesticulations from his technical area.
20 min Atkinson does not have the easiest debut on his hands. The pace is a step up but not only that he is facing the likes of Al-Dawsari with Al-Shahrani. This pair love an overlap.
Hrustic is released by Mat Ryan, and before you can blink Boyle is in the box and Fornaroli alert to the action, anticipating the next move. The next move does not eventuate.
17 mins Thus far the Saudis are still retaining possession and suffocating Australia. Al-Faraj is doing his best work with the least room. Boyle, meanwhile, is on a mazy run which, in the end, amounts to nothing.
13 min ALMOST goal. And it is the first real contribution from Atkinson, who opens up the field nicely. Boyle shows off with a cute backheel and a ball across the face of goal is very nearly converted by Awer Mabil but he does not quite have a handle on it.
10 min Hrustic finds Mabil and Behich is charging forward but the ball is out of play off a Saudi defender. Their two central defenders – Hassan Tambakti and Abdullah Madu – played no part at all in their last match.
Salman Al-Faraj, the captain of both this team and Al-Hilal, looks to make moves but is dealt with by Sainsbury.
We are away!
5 min Saudi Arabia have all the early possession as they string passes together and drive forward. Australia clean up a bit here though the passes are not being completed at this point. A Martin Boyle long ball is cleaned up by Mohammed Al-Owais.
Here is how the teams line up. A couple of changes for Australia with Bruno Fornaroli making his first start for his new country and right-back Nathaniel Atkinson his overall debut. The latter has enjoyed an impressive few years with Melbourne City and recently joined Hearts.
Rhyan Grant and Joel King step out Denis Genreau has his second cap alongside James Jeggo and Gianni Stensness, who played in midfield against, drops back to the centre of defence.
“We are where we were four years ago.” Graham Arnold said today from Jeddah. What he means is that Australia’s Qatar 2022 fate is now in the hands of the dreaded playoffs, just as it was in the bid to qualify for Russia 2018. He means Asia and then South America.
Why? Well, we have missed out on automatic qualification. Last week’s 2-0 home loss to Japan ensured that. It also ensured more questions about Arnold’s future as head coach and more pre- post mortems of the Socceroos’ failure to qualify altogether, which has not even yet happened (though we do love a drama).
Today’s tie is against Saudi Arabia. It is a dead rubber. Australia will finish third in their group, and Japan and Saudi first and second, and that will not change regardless of the result. But Arnold offered another wise nugget today: he does not believe in dead rubbers.
“Especially when you put on a national team shirt,” he said. “I said to the boys, ‘I’ve used 45 players over the last 17 games and we will add to that tonight’. I would rather look at the positives. The positives are that we are creating depth. Today it’s a clean sheet of paper.”
This blog, though, will not be a clean sheet of paper. So let’s fill it!