Saudi Arabia, usually one of Asia's football powers, is out of contention the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil after a loss to Australia in Melbourne, Wednesday. The team, known as the "Green Falcons," is a three-time winner of the Asian Cup, but finished third in its round three qualifying group this year. China has also been eliminated from the race to compete in the World Cup.
Saudi Arabia needed to beat Australia in Melbourne to guarantee passage to the next round of World Cup qualification. At half-time, the visitors held a 2-1 lead and their fans were in full voice.
But three goals for Australia in the space of three minutes in the second half ended Saudi Arabia’s hopes of moving one step closer to the next World Cup finals, to be staged in Brazil in 2014. The Saudis also failed to reach the last World Cup in South Africa in 2010.
Australia, which had already secured its place in the next qualification phase, won 4-2 in front of more than 24,000 supporters in Melbourne.
Saudi Arabia coach Frank Rijkaard, a former Dutch international, says it was a very even contest.
“There will be critics about the game. That is normal," said Rijkaard. "But I think if you look at it realistically, we played a decent game and maybe with a little bit [of] luck we could have got more out of the game. But, on the other hand, Australia showed more professionality [professionalism], and they kept on going and they were mentally stronger than us.”
Joining Australia in the next qualifying round is Oman, which beat Thailand, 2-0. The race to Brazil in two years time starts again for the Asian zone in June when 10 nations will compete for four automatic berths for the 2014 World Cup finals.
China was eliminated before this week’s matches across Asia. It had lost three of its opening five games but did manage a consolation 3-1 home win against Jordan which, despite the defeat, progresses to the next stage.
Jordan will be joined by Asian powerhouses Japan and South Korea, while Australia and Iran will also be among the favorites to reach the finals in Brazil.
Football’s World Cup is held every four years and features 32 nations. The reigning champion is Spain.