Saudi Arabia have Mohammed Al-Owais to thank for avoiding defeat in their World Cup warm-up match against Ecuador in Spain on Friday, which ended in a goalless draw.
The Al-Hilal goalkeeper was in sparkling form as he saved Hervé Renard’s men from suffering a third consecutive defeat against South American opposition, following defeats in June against Colombia and Venezuela.
With less than two months until their World Cup opener against Argentina, followed by matches against Poland and Mexico, Friday’s draw will be seen as a decent result for the Green Falcons, even if they were second for much of the game, struggled to impress on offense and failed to find the net for a third game in a row.
The South Americans dominated the first period and will have been frustrated not to be in front at the break. They should have gone ahead in the ninth minute when Pervis Estupinan sent in a perfect cross from the left. Piero Hincapie managed to get between three defenders and head the ball into the top corner of the net – or so everyone thought. Suddenly, Al-Owais flew over the goal to make a fantastic save. It wasn’t to be the only time the 30-year-old would be called into action.
With less than 15 minutes left on the clock, Ecuador had their best chance of the game. Riyadh Sharahili was taken into possession about halfway through his own half and the ball was sent to Enner Valencia. Suddenly finding himself on goal, the Fenerbache striker cut from the left side but fired wide in the face of rushing Al-Owais.
Shortly after, the striker did the same from a tighter angle on the other side of the box as the men in yellow continued to find ways to get behind the Saudi defence.
In the 20th minute, Estupinan fired a free kick over the bar as the pressure continued to mount. Gaps at the back were evident again moments later when a through ball from inside the Ecuadorian half nearly freed Valencia once again.
With Ecuador firmly in control, Saudi Arabia nearly took a shock lead five minutes before the break in a rare foray into opposition territory. Hincapie fell near the penalty area and suddenly Firas Al-Buraikan, the top scorer in the Saudi Professional League last season, was on goal. The Al-Fateh striker pushed into the box and although he had options to pass, he rightly decided to go for the goal himself. But the blow was tame; low and straight on Alexander Dominguez, who made his first real save of the game.
The first half ended on a more familiar note. First, Valencia’s long-range shot was pushed back by Al-Owais, who then had to make another fine save from the resulting corner as Valencia closed in again.
There was more energy in the opening period of the second half from the Saudis as they looked to get in front of their opponents and deny them time and space on the pitch. ball.
Clear chances were still hard to find, but at least Ecuador, who will face Qatar in Doha on November 20 in the opening match of the World Cup, did not break through the Saudi defense as often as they would did it in the first half.
But then Al-Owais was forced back into action as he pulled off an impressive double save from substitute Jose Cifuentes. The first shot from the Los Angeles midfielder, a half-volley from the edge of the box, was cleared by the goalkeeper’s boot. His follow-up volley bounced off the turf and spun up the net when Al-Owais flipped him acrobatically over the bar.
He made an even better save 17 minutes from time, when Michael Estrada edged past Ali Al-Bulaihi to run on Estupinan’s long ball. Al-Owais quickly left his line to make the save.
Saudi Arabia’s best attacking moment came eight minutes from time. Salem Al-Dawsari, who had worked hard but never achieved the influence he wanted, saw his shot blocked and the rebound fly straight into Dominguez’s arms.
Ecuador kept pushing for a winner but couldn’t find a way past Al-Owais, who did more than enough to ensure that any discussion of replacing rival goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf , kicked out of the squad by Renard, will fade for now. .
Al-Owais has another chance to impress on Tuesday, when Saudi preparations for the World Cup continue with a match against the United States, who were beaten 2-0 by Japan on Friday in Germany.