Saudi Arabia’s sports authorities threatened on Friday to hold members of the national football team “accountable” after their crushing defeat against hosts Russia in the opening match of the World Cup.
Russia defied expectations as the lowest-ranked side in the tournament by thrashing Saudi Arabia 5-0 in front of an ecstatic home crowd in Moscow on Thursday.
The match was attended by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who sat a couple of seats away from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The result was disappointing and unsatisfactory,” Adel Ezzat, president of the Saudi Football Federation, told Al-Arabiya television Friday.
A “number of players” including goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf would be held accountable, he added.
The team had been trained so they could rise to the occasion, Ezzat said.
“The collapse was not because of fitness, but errors in passing the ball, technical errors,” he added.
Alongside the goalkeeper, Ezzat named two other players — defender Omar Hosawi and striker Mohammed al-Sahlawi — without specifying what action would be taken.
Saudi sports authority chief Turki al-Sheikh, who is leading the kingdom’s multi-billion dollar push for global footballing influence, said he took “full responsibility” for the defeat.
But he also lashed out at the players.
“We did everything for them… we provided them the best coaching staff,” Sheikh said in a video posted on Twitter.
“Let no-one tell me (Argentinian coach Juan Antonio) Pizzi is not a known coach. But these are our players. They did not do even five per cent of what was required of them. This is a reality that we should admit.”
Regional Arab media also blasted the “Green Falcons” for their humiliating defeat.
“Falcons brought down to earth”, read a headline in the English-language Arab News, a Saudi daily, quoting fans’ dismay over the poor showing.
“The bear eats the falcons”, said Kuwaiti newspaper al-Anba, while the Oman Daily called the defeat “the peak of disappointment” for Arab fans.
Privately-owned Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm decried the “painful fall of Saudi Arabia”.
This year is the first World Cup finals tournament Saudi Arabia has reached since 2006. Football’s global governing body FIFA last week ranked the team 67th in the world, ahead of Russia in 70th.
Head coach Pizzi took over the Saudi team in November last year after the football federation sacked Edgardo Bauza, a fellow Argentinian who had only been in charge for two months.