Spirited Saudis aim to defy odds again
Contrasting moods will accompany Poland and Saudi Arabia into their World Cup Group C clash on Saturday, with all the pressure on the Poles after they started with a disappointing goalless draw while the Saudis shocked Argentina.
Saudi Arabia stunned the world by beating the Argentines 2-1 on Tuesday and could upset the odds again against a Poland side who fluffed their lines versus Mexico when Robert Lewandowski, who has never scored at a World Cup, missed a penalty.
The Saudis, who are the second-lowest ranked team in the tournament only above Ghana, will eye their second-ever round of 16 after they were knocked out by Sweden back in 1994.
The odds were stacked against Saudi Arabia in their first match against Argentina, as they will be again on matchday two as they tackle Poland.
Saudi Arabia had won only two of their previous 15 games at the finals -- again in succession in 1994 -- while this is the first time they have scored twice in consecutive matches.
They have never netted three in a World Cup match, though, and face a Poland team looking for a third clean sheet in a row -- last achieving such a sequence between 1974 and 1978.
Saudi Arabia have lost nine of their 10 World Cup matches against European opposition, including each of the past eight in a row.
That dismal run included an 8-0 humiliation at the hands of Germany in 2002, but forward Saleh Al Shehri knows this is a very different team.
"That was a defeat in the past," said Al Shehri, who netted the equaliser against Argentina. "I think we, as a country, want to get back and go up to the top as a team.
For Poland a win is vital to their hopes of reaching the last 16 for the first time since 1986.
"This result does not take away the chances of advancing further neither from us nor the Mexicans," Poland coach Czeslaw Michniewicz said after Tuesday's stalemate.
However, some of Poland players appear to have already given up on their last group match against Argentina, putting added pressure on the need to beat the Saudis.
"We're adding zero points to our account ahead of the third match, which will definitely be lost," goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny had said on the eve of the Mexico game.
By contrast, the Saudis got a massive boost from their first ever opening World Cup victory and the surprise Group C leaders will approach the Poland game full of optimism.
"I think about the pressure," added Al Shehri. "Every game has its own pressure.
"We did one job perfectly. It's finished and we are waiting for the next game against Poland. The pressure is always on when you play at this top level."
Both sides had similarly low possession and only two shots on target in their opening games but for Saudi Arabia that was enough to cause one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history.
Poland, who frustrated their fans and Lewandowski with a defensive approach, must be on the front foot or they could be heading out of the tournament.