Following Saudi’s loss to Uruguay yesterday, as well as Morocco’s defeat at the hands of Portugal, Arab teams are left in a precarious position.
All but one of the 4 participating teams will soon make their exit out of the World Cup. Tunisia remains the Arab nations’ sole hope for making it past the group stage.
What went wrong?
Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco lost both of their matches so far, effectively eliminating them from the competition.
Egyptian fans were pinning their hopes on star player Mohamed Salah to come through for his country’s team, following his injury-related absence from their first game. Yet, despite performing as best as his health allowed, even scoring Egypt’s third World Cup goal in the history of the tournament, it was not enough. The Egyptian team sealed their own fate with a 3-1 loss to Russia.
What caused this lackluster performance? Morale was high for the team, as this was the Pharaohs’ big return to the World Cup following an 18-year absence. In the end, however, it was not enough.
While Egypt does not have the luxury or funds to afford the best facilities and coaches for their team, they do have a very active football scene in the country. Political and economic unrest might have led to a less than stellar team, save for Salah.
Saudi team facing government scrutiny?
Saudi Arabia had a lot of money to invest in their team. In fact, Saudi sports authority chief Turki al-Sheikh, who is leading the kingdom's multi-billion dollar push for global footballing influence, lashed out at his country’s team.
"We did everything for them... we provided them the best coaching staff," Sheikh said in a video posted on Twitter.
"Let no-one tell me (Argentinian coach Juan Antonio) Pizzi is not a known coach. But these are our players. They did not do even five percent of what was required of them. This is a reality that we should admit."
So, an abundance of cash was not enough for the inexperienced Saudi team to make it through.
Morocco doesn’t seem to be having a good time either
After losing the bid to host the 2026 World Cup, Morocco has also lost their place at this year’s tournament.
The national team’s coach Herve Renard has also admitted that they did not deserve to lose at Saint Petersburg. "I'm feeling disappointed and if we had come out with a draw I would've also been disappointed considering the way the game played out.”
“A defeat, when you had quite a few opportunities, it is the worst thing that could have happened.”
Morocco’s loss to Iran came after a self-inflicted goal by one of the team’s players. The same occurred in Egypt’s match against Russia, where one of their players accidentally scored in his own goal.
Both incidents are quite troublesome and frankly embarrassing, leaving opinion of both teams to be rather underwhelming. These rookie mistakes are a sign of inexperience and lack of training. Perhaps, even of a certain lack of mental fortitude.
The bitter truth
Chatter on social media following Egypt’s 2nd match was that of disappointment and shame. Fans were discussing the defeatist mentality of the Arab teams, some of which they claimed had only been seeking to break even with a draw in their matches. This apparently is a result of the pressure they were facing when pit face to face with international teams of great renown and experience.
A darker, more bitter truth is that many Arab cultures, especially those afflicted by political and economic unrest, brandish a defeatist state of mind, within and without football. It mirrors the discussions taking place online on social media sites. One user on Reddit under the name Ismaily sheds light on this in a post dedicated to Mo Salah’s importance to a suffering Egypt.
“When Salah was in Egypt, he was constantly reminded that ‘European players’ will always be better than him or any other Egyptian counterpart, that there’re levels he can’t simply reach, that the highest objective he could achieve was to play for Ahly or Zamalek, Egypt’s biggest clubs,” Ismaily explains.
This kind of mentality is prevalent in the region, and is likely to have been a major contributing factor in the Arab teams’ losses.
Tunisia: Arabs’ last hope
Now, Tunisia’s match against Belgium this Saturday will be the deciding factor. Belgium had a great showing, defeating Panama with a strong 3-0 score.
Tunisia, on the other hand, wasn’t so successful in their match against England. While they put up a good fight, they eventually lost with a 2-1 score for the English.
The team has a colored history. In the 1978 tournament in Argentina, they became the first team from the African side to win a World Cup match.
At the moment, they have very big shoes to fill, and several countries are pinning their hopes on them. June 23 will be the deciding date.