Who? Saudi Arabia - Peru
Where? Kybunpark, St. Gallen
When? June 3, 20:00 (CET local time)
Saudi Arabia (Uri Levy)
Saudi football will never forget the 2017/2018, and from different justified reasons. The country held its first football matches with female audience, 10 Saudi internationals has signed in Spanish teams in an outrageous deal and the national team managed to qualify for the World Cup with three coaches in one year. Wait, what? Yes.
The Saudis have started the World Cup Qualification with the Dutch Brett Van Marwijk, who got sacked and replaced by Edgardo Bauza. Bauza himself was sacked after only three months later and was replaced by Juan Antonio Pizzi, the current coach.
The man behind everything is one of the strongest figures in Middle Eastern football - Turki Al-Shekih, the Saudi Football Association President, and the brain behind the Spanish deal. He hoped for different results. Besides numerous minutes of Fahd Al-Muwallad and Salem Al-Dawsri at Levante and Villareal, none of the players involved in the deal gained the opportunity to get playing time in a European level.
This fact turned out to be a bit problematic, as a few of the national team’s most promising stars are arriving the World Cup after four months where they played only few minutes of pro football.
Meanwhile, the betting agencies positioned Saudi Arabia as one of the two worst teams in the World Cup. Though, in the past week against Italy, the Saudis produced a great second half, pressured the Italians to their own goal and even scored in a counter attack all made by their ‘Ex-Spanish’ players. Al-Muwallad pressed, Al-Dawsri stole the ball and founded Yahya Al-Shehri who played for Las Palmas, which went through Donnarumma and sent it in. 2-1 for the Italians at full time.
Against Peru, the Saudis will look to prepare themselves for Uruguay, and this is exactly why they brought a Copa America winner as Pizzi as coach. He knows what it takes to win a South American team.
Peru (Omri Tancman)
Two weeks before the World Cup and it seems that finally Peru can concentrate in creating stories on the field instead outside of it. To name some of the controversies that followed the Peruvian team on its way to Russia this summer, Peru lost to Bolivia 2-0 in September 2016 during the qualifications. However, in August 2017 a victory awarded for this game, after it was found that Nelson Cabrera, one of Bolivia’s players was ineligible to play.
Later, in the last game of the qualifications Peru and Colombia played each other. Both teams could benefit from a draw which would send Colombia to Russia and Peru to the playoffs instead of Chile. The match ended 1-1 with a bizarre own goal by Colombia’s goalkeeper, Ospina. Chilean press accused both teams for fixing the match, a claim that was boosted after Falcao was caught talking to some of Peru’s players, including Captain Paolo Guerrero, in order to calm down the game, according to Chilean accusations.
Finally, Guerrero himself was in the midst of another scandal when several weeks after qualification, he failed a drug test and was tested positive for cocaine. Guerrero was banned for 14 months and was supposed to be ruled out for the upcoming World Cup. In a dramatic fashion, on May 31st, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) decided to accept Guerrero’s appeal. The decision holds great importance for Peru who will now receive its captain and all-time top goal scorer back to the squad.
The game against Saudi Arabia will be a first test for the Peruvians to prove that they can create stories related only to football, although this might be somewhat boring, no?