FOR a proud footballing nation, this is a nervously exciting moment for Saudi Arabia.
So much focus has been on Australia getting the Road to Russia back on track but for the Middle East nation, last seen at the finals in 2006, the wait is excruciating.
Journalists literally thanked their boss Bert van Marwijk at the pre match press conference for steering the side three points clear of Australia at this point in World Cup Qualifying.
“You don’t have to thank me; you can thank me when we’re qualified,” he snapped coolly in a major assumption given how tight the race is in this qualifying pool.
But that mood – in a country that has seen 19 bosses in the time Australia has had five – just re-enforces the context of this game, with the hosts three points in arrears of Thursday’s opponent, that isn’t necessarily appreciated by the wider sporting public in Australia.
Nor are the depths our rivals are going to to break that painful drought.
The Middle East nation have been in Australia since 1 June, having arrived on a charter flight from Saudi Airlines, and have brought with them more staff than players!
29 staff have joined the 23-man squad – and that doesn’t include VIPs and dignitaries for the delegation that has prepared for the pivotal World Cup Qualifier on Adelaide United’s pristine Coopers Stadium surface, while staying at the Hilton Hotel.
“Lend us some money”, Socceroos boss Ange Postecoglou quipped at his press conference when asked to weigh in on the discrepancy between the two budgets and preparations.
Jokes aside, Australia’s boss retorted that they might have financial clout but: “Our preparation has lasted two years and six months”.
When Australia travelled to Saudi Arabia, tensions boiled over on the sideline.
Judging by the cagey, prickly answers the country’s Dutch coach barked at his press conference on Wednesday, pleasantries will be spared again at Adelaide Oval on Thursday night.
2010 World Cup finalist van Marwijk balked when asked about Ramadan; players missing from this squad or his game plan – “I will not tell what we are going to do”.
He did, however, turn the rhetoric coming out of Australia’s camp on its head to remind the Socceroos that it is his team who hold the balance of power in the qualifying group at the moment.
“I think the big pressure is here on Australia because they fight for the last chance,” he said.
“I also know it will not be easy; Australia are a strong physical team, play at home… “That’s an advantage for them but we are not afraid. We can play football very well, we showed it a lot of times. I always try to play in the same way.”
If it’s the same way as in Jeddah, it could get niggly.
If it gets Saudi Arabia to Russia, none of their football mad country will care.
Captain Osama Hawsawi said: “The current players didn’t play a World Cup, so … it might be the last chance to play in such an international tournament.
“We are ready for it and hope we can win such a decisive game and we can satisfy our great Saudi people that supported us during this stage.”
He added: “I still remember when he (van Marwijk) took us for our first training: he told us with your qualities you can compete with any team in the world. We are a good group of players and … we know its a big chance and opportunity to take it. We hope we will make it for the game tomorrow.”