But Spain put out their second string and were almost plucked themselves. In the 89th minute Saad Al Harthi should have equalised. Instead, he sent Mohammed Noor's cut-back into the stands and fell to the turf holding his head in anguish while the Spanish goalkeeper, Santiago Canizares, who had earlier saved smartly from Hussein Sulimani, spent most of the four minutes of injury time berating his defenders.
When the announcement was made that the Fifa technical advisers had chosen Spanish goalscorer Juanito as their man of the match it was met with a chorus of whistles. In the dug-out the head of the coach, Luis Aragones, sunk further and further into his chest. He looked incredulous at proceedings. It was the kind of progressively dispiriting display that could even do damage to Spain's chances of continuing far into this tournament.
Aragones did indeed make the 11 changes he promised and so none of the players who started had been there at the first whistle against Tunisia in their second group match. None can expect to be there for the next match either. Real Madrid's Raul, a lone, and lonely, striker for the opening 45 minutes until being withdrawn, can certainly hope for little more than making an impact from the bench. He looked forlorn, out-of-touch and somewhat sluggish.
In the end the Spanish picked up more bookings than goals. The referee from Benin certainly wasn't benign although the cautions were warranted. He did, however, miss a clear penalty when, late on, Redha Tukar tugged at Fernando Torres' shirt. By then Torres had joined Xavi and David Villa in trying to pep up La seleccion. Instead, Villa was also fortunate to escape punishment, and possibly a red card, after spitefully kicking out at Noor.
"We played below our level," Aragones said afterwards, not looking like a man who had just guided his team through as the winners of Group H with three wins and eight goals scored. "Maybe that was to be expected with the team we fielded," he added.
And maybe not. All the XI who started are of great quality and could argue, on reputation at least, they warrant a first-choice place. Such is the strength of Aragones' young squad. They also began as if they wanted to plunder as many goals as possible. But their finishing was wasteful, there was some stubborn goalkeeping by Mabrouk Zayed and gradually Spain lost their way.
The only goal came on 36 minutes when Juanito was simply too powerful and too determined for his marker Hamad Al Montashari. He thumped a header into the top corner of the net from Jose Antonio Reyes's deep free-kick.
Before then they had already missed a hatful. Joaquin, slaloming in from the right-flank, twice had strong shots tipped over while David Albelda's fierce drive was parried after alert build-up play by Cesc Fabregas. The Arsenal midfielder was to go on to have a disappointing afternoon as did his club team-mate Reyes who threw his arms to the skies in disappointment as Zayed stopped one volley.
After half-time, the chances, after more profligacy from Joaquin and another fine save by Zayed from Antonio Lopez's cross-shot, simply dried up. Emboldened the Saudis pushed forward and suddenly the last remnants of any Spanish impetus were lost. Their opponents were creating the chances. Juanito won another important header - this time under his own bar - and Nawaf Al Temyat bobbled a shot past the post with three team-mates waiting for a cross. Nevertheless, Spain deservedly go on. The Saudis go out.
Saudi Arabia (4-4-2): Zayed; Dokhi, Al Montashari, Tukar, (all Al-Ittihad), Khathran (Al-Hilal); Noor, Khariri (both Al-Ittihad), Aziz (Al-Hilal), Sulimani (Al-Ahli); Al Harthi (Al-Nasr), Al Jaber (Al-Hilal). Substitutions used: Al Temyat (Al-Hilal) for Aziz, 13; Al Hawsawi (Al-Ahli) for Al Jaber, 68; Massad (Al-Ahli) for Sulimani, 81.
Spain (4-1-4-1): Canizares (Valencia); Salgado (R Madrid), Juanito (R Betis), Marchena (Valencia), Lopez (A Madrid); Albelda (Valencia); Joaquin (R Betis), Fabregas (Arsenal), Iniesta (Barcelona), Reyes (Arsenal); Raul (R Madrid). Substitutes used: Villa (Valencia) for Raul, h-t; Xavi (Barcelona) for Fabregas, 66; Torres (A Madrid) for Reyes, 70.
Booked: Saudi Arabia: Al Jaber, 27. Spain: Albelda, 30; Reyes, 35; Marchena, 75.
Referee: C Codjia (Benin).
Man of the match: Zayed.
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