The U-23 teams of Saudi Arabia and Egypt on Sunday go into the second round of matches at the Tokyo 2020 Men’s Football competition with their dreams of progress to the quarterfinals very much alive.
But both will know that against two of the competition’s most formidable teams in Germany and Argentina there will be little margin for error if they are to go into their last group matches later this week with their fates still in their hands.
Despite an encouraging performance in its opening Group D match on Thursday, Saudi Arabia still lost 2-1 to Ivory Coast and now face a strong German team that will be looking to make amends for their 4-2 loss to reigning Olympic champions Brazil.
Coach Saad Al-Shehri has been carrying out training sessions at Mitsuzawa Stadium in Tokyo and will welcome the addition of Firas Al-Buraikan to the squad ahead of the match with the Rio 2016 silver medalists, which will take place in Yokohama International Stadium on Sunday morning (2.30am KSA)
For the Saudi team’s three overage players — Yasser Al-Shahrani, Salman Al-Faraj and Salem Al-Dossary — the clash with Germany will bring back memories of the time they represented the senior national team against the then World champions just six days before the start of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
In the friendly match at the BayArena in Leverkusen, Germany, Argentinian coach Juan Antonio Pizzi, then in charge of the Saudi national team, started Al-Shahrani at left-back, Al-Dossary as a winger and Salman Al-Faraj in midfield.
The match finished in a 2-1 loss for the Saudis, with Tayseer Al-Jassem scoring a a consolation goal six minutes from the end after the Germans had taken a two-goal lead in the first half through goals by Timo Werner after eight minutes and an own goal by Omar Hawsawi before the break.
Saudi Arabia will play their third and final group match against Brazil on Wednesday, July 28, while Ivory Coast and Germany face off on the same day.
Egypt claimed a priceless point from a scoreless draw with Group C favorites Spain, and will now look for a similar, or even better, outcome against Argentina at the Sapporo Dome on Sunday morning (10.30am KSA).
The Pharaohs have given themselves a real chance of progress to the quarterfinals and could still achieve that with a win against Australia in their final match on Wednesday, even if their match against Argentina should end in defeat. The South Americans will face Spain on the group’s final day.