Football / World Cup USA '94: Saudis put their faith in half-fit 'Desert Pele'

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SAUDI ARABIA go in search of a shock to pale England's defeat by the United States in 1950 when they attempt to beat the Netherlands in their opening group F game at the Robert F Kennedy Memorial Stadium today.

The Saudis, who exude confidence, might find their biggest ally is Dutch ignorance. The Dutch players admit they know virtually nothing about the Saudis, who will be playing their first match in the World Cup finals. 'All we, the players, have seen of them is half of their qualifying match against Japan, on a video,' said Dennis Bergkamp, who is expected to play in a withdrawn striking role today.

What the Dutch will discover is that Saudi Arabia will try to slow the game down, stay tight and generally make life difficult for any players attempting to show off their skills. The heat will not help the Netherlands either.

'We shall be attacking and looking for goals, as that is our style,' Bergkamp said. 'I know it is hot and they may be more familiar with playing in high temperatures, but we feel we can cope with both the heat and the opposition if we play well.'

The Dutch, beaten in the final in 1974 and 1978, failed four years ago and are keen to live up to their reputation this time. 'I am motivated by our past failings, but not completely,' their sweeper, Ronald Koeman, said. 'We know what we are capable of and our real motivation is to fulfil that potential.'

The Dutch coach, Dick Advocaat, has kept his cards close to his chest but it would be surprising if he dispensed with the usual fluid 3-4-3 formation, incorporating two wingers, for a match the bookmakers rate virtually a walkover, Hills in London offering 12-1 against a Saudi victory.

The Saudis will rely on a defence, marshalled by their captain, Mohammad Abdul-Jawad, and possession football through midfield to feed Majed Abdullah Mohammed in attack. Dubbed the 'Desert Pele', Majed Abdullah has scored 118 goals in 166 international, according to Saudi federation figures. He has a ready-made excuse if he does not add to that impressive tally today as he is not fully fit.

NETHERLANDS (3-4-3): de Goey (Feyenoord); Koeman (Barcelona); van Gobbel (Feyenoord), F de Boer (Ajax); Rijkaard (Ajax), Jonk (Internazionale), Bergkamp (Internazionale), Wouters (PSV Eindhoven); Overmars (Ajax), R de Boer (Ajax), Roy (Foggia).

SAUDI ARABIA (4-4-2): Mohammad Al Deayea (Al Tai); Abdullah Al Dosari (Al Ittifaq), Mohammad Al Khilawi (Al Ittihad), Ahmed Madani (Al Ittihad), Mohammad Al Jawad (Al Ahli); Fuad Amin (Al Hilal), Fahad Al Bishi (Al Nasr), Khalid Al Muwallid (Al Ahli), Talal Al Jibreen (Al Riyadh); Majed Abdullah Mohammed (Al Nasr), Saeed Owairan (Al Shabab).

Referee: Manuel Diaz Vega (Spain).