Three-times champions Saudi Arabia were left wondering where it all went wrong today after they crashed out of the AFC Asian Cup, becoming the first team to exit the tournament.
The opening 2-1 loss to outsiders Syria followed by the 1-0 defeat to surprise-package Jordan leaves Saudi Arabia bottom of Group B with no points and out of the championships with one more game to go, against Japan on Monday. It is only the second time in the history of the tournament that they have not made it to the knockout stages.
Nasser Al Johar, who was given the unenviable task of leading the team after coach Jose Peseiro's abrupt dismissal, refused to blame goalkeeper Waleed Abdullah, who totally misjudged Baha Abdelrahman's cross to give Jordan victory. Furious Saudi fans booed the team off the pitch at the Al-Rayyan stadium, with particular vitriol directed at the keeper. Players had rallied round the disconsolate Waleed at the final whistle.
"He may have made a mistake but these things happen in world football," said Al Johar, who was similarly brought in mid-tournament in 2000, inspiring the Saudis to the final, where they lost to Japan. But there would be no repeat this time.
When asked if Peseiro's chopping and changing of players and formations in the build-up to Doha had been the reason for Saudi Arabia's poor performances Al Johar said: "That might be the reason. In recent years there was no fixed formation and there were many changes in the personnel of the team."
Al Johar made four changes in the first game in the post-Peseiro era, including bringing in forward Naif Hazazi to partner Al Qahtani. Hazazi's effervescent first-half performance with in stark contrast to his more decorated strike partner, who suffered a minor foot injury in a friendly before the tournament and looked well off the pace in both games.
"Jordan were lucky as the goal that we conceded went in by luck because the ball was meant to be a cross," said Al Johar, whose team had most of the possession in the game but created few clear-cut chances. "If we were bad, we could have conceded two or three goals but we were the better side in the game. I said previously that I don't have a magic wand to change everything."
Midfielder Mohammed Al Shalhoub issued an apology to fans on behalf of the team. "I am very sorry to all our fans for the result," he said. "We played very well and we controlled the ball better than Jordan in the game. But football is about scoring goals and although we had chances, we were unable to manage that. It was very disappointing to lose this game but this is football. Now we just have to look to the next challenge and hopefully we can do better."