Saudis hope to avert Uruguay rout

NIZHNY NOVGOROD • After conceding five goals against hosts Russia, Saudi Arabia could probably do with facing a rival other than South American powerhouses Uruguay and their star forward Luis Suarez.

Today, the two Group A teams will face off in the second round of World Cup matches in Rostov-on-Don, with Uruguay hoping to appease some worries after only beating Egypt 1-0 in their opening game, thanks to a late goal.

Bizarrely, two-time World Cup champions Uruguay have never beaten Saudi Arabia. The Saudis will also be boosted by the fact that the usually ruthless Suarez, who is set to make his 100th international appearance, missed three chances against Egypt.

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, defender Jose Gimenez, who scored the winning goal against Egypt, warned against complacency. "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," he said.

The Saudi players themselves seem to be preparing the ground for another defeat, but are not giving up without a fight.

"There is no doubt that facing the Uruguayan team is difficult and that they are known for their international stars, but we are determined to improve our image from the previous match and (play for) the joy of the Saudi fans," said midfielder Taisir Al-Jassim.

The Saudis' preparations were jolted by a mid-air mishap on Monday, when the plane carrying them to Rostov reportedly suffered a fire in one of its engines.

The aircraft landed safely after what one of the Saudi players called a "simple malfunction".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2018, with the headline 'Saudis hope to avert Uruguay rout'. Print Edition | Subscribe