You have to feel sorry for Saudi Arabia. Not only were they hammered 5-0 by host nation Russia in the opening match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Thursday. Even the squad numbers on their shirts aren’t all printed correctly – which seems ironic, seeing as they’re Arabic numbers.
As spotted by the Sun, Villarreal winger and Saudi number 18 Salem Al-Dawsari had the number 8 printed upside down on his back. Given his side’s shambolic defensive display, such an elementary howler seemed oddly appropriate.
Even after just two matches in Group A – the Saudis’ humiliation by Russia and a narrow 1-0 win for Uruguay over Egypt – the Asian side already look likely to be the group’s whipping boys. For one thing, a defence which shipped five goals against a Russian side currently ranked 70th in the world by FIFA still has to keep Mohamed Salah and Luis Suárez at bay.
It may seem a little harsh to pay undue attention to a squad number typo which is easy to make. Yet sometimes it’s the little details which betray the underlying weaknesses in a squad’s World Cup preparations. In all fairness, Al-Dawsari – who has featured just once for Villarreal – will likely be more concerned about his side’s brittleness than about the printing error on his back.
The Saudis haven’t always had such a miserable time at the World Cup. In the United States in 1994, they even progressed to the round of 16 after defeating Belgium 1-0 – courtesy of a stunning individual goal by Saeed Al-Owairan, who was subsequently dubbed ‘the Desert Maradona’.
Sadly for their fans, the current side’s chances of emulating the Class of ’94 look extremely remote. We can only hope that they at least avoid further thrashings in their remaining group clashes against Uruguay and Egypt.