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Tokyo Olympics - Group D: Saudi Arabia denied by  Côte d’Ivoire

Yokohama: A spirited performance on their return to the Olympics for the first time since 1996 was not enough for Saudi Arabia to avoid a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Côte d’Ivoire in Group D of the Tokyo 2020 men's Football Tournament at the Yokohama Stadium on Thursday.

Coach Saad Al Shehri’s men started brightly, applying a high press game on their opponents, repeatedly winning the ball in the Ivorian half, but without creating much in terms of scoring chances in the opening 30 minutes.

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The first chance of the game came as a result of a Sami Al Najee piece of improvisation as the midfielder attempted a clever lobbed effort, nearly catching goalkeeper Ira Tapé off-guard but he was able to recover and tip it behind for a corner.

It took 39 minutes for the deadlock to be broken and the opening goal arrived against the run of play as a miscommunication between defender Abdulelah Al Amri and goalkeeper Mohammed Al Rubaie saw the former inadvertently convert a cross from Côte d’Ivoire captain Max Gradel from the left flank past his own goalkeeper and into the back of the net.

The young Green Falcons were determined to bounce back and within five minutes they had found the equaliser as left-back Yasser Al Shahrani cut inside and set up Al Hilal teammate Salem Al Dawsari who curled an effort from the edge of the area nestling in the back of the net despite Tapé’s desperate attempts to save.

Having scored the winning goal in the 2-1 win over Egypt in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Al Dawsari became only the second player in Saudi Arabia’s history to find the back of the net at both the World Cup and the Olympics, following in the footsteps of Fouad Anwar who scored in the 1994 FIFA World Cup and the 1996 Olympic Games.

With the intensity of their press dropping after the restart, Saudi Arabia nearly conceded a second own goal as right-back Saud Abdulhamid left his goalkeeper wrongfooted as he attempted to control a cross inside the box, the follow through was headed by Christian Kouamé onto the crossbar, saving the Saudi defender’s blushes.

AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie (pictured above, centre) restored Côte d’Ivoire’s lead in the 67th minute, controlling a pass on the edge of the box on the turn and rifling on with his left into the bottom corner.

A well-worked spell of Saudi passes saw the ball fed to Ayman Al Khulaif on the right flank and the substitute cut on his left foot and fired an effort that was saved by Tapé.

With just eight minutes to go on the clock, Al Dawsari thought he had added his second goal of the day after striking Al Khulaif’s cut-back pass on the half-volley and beating the goalkeeper, but he was left to rue his luck as he watched his ball cannon off the crossbar.

Having failed to collect any points from their opening match, Saudi Arabia take on Germany on Sunday, while Côte d’Ivoire play Brazil earlier in the day in their Matchday Two fixture. Defending champions Brazil opened their campaign with a 4-2 win over Germany on Thursday.

Photos: AFP

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