DOHA, Qatar (AP) — It was a home crowd for Saudi Arabia on Saturday as it played Poland in its second match at the World Cup.
Despite clear disappointment over the 2-0 loss, Saudi fans were still basking in the glow of their team’s improbable win against Argentina earlier this week, one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history.
“We’re going to forget what happened today,” said Ahmad al-Khalaf, a 35-year-old from the country’s eastern al-Ahsa region, when asked about the defeat. “For sure, we’re going to beat (Mexico) in the next match as we beat Argentina before.”
The stadium was a sea of green as stands filled with tens of thousands of Saudi fans, lured across the border by the lingering thrill of their country’s rare World Cup triumph. Men in dark green jerseys and women in lime-hued abayas, their faces painted in the colors of the national flag, cheered each moment a Saudi player kicked the ball. When Poland’s players made a move, boos thundered around the pitch.
Some fans speculated that the sheer size and intensity of the crowd created pressure that hurt the team’s performance. But others reveled in the sense of togetherness.
“The crowd was totally beautiful,” said 25-year-old Malek al-Malki from the port city of Jeddah. “It’s clear we suddenly believe more in our national team.”
Few had predicted that the ultraconservative kingdom, the second lowest-ranked team in the World Cup, would have been swept up in the wildest revelry of the tournament so far. But the kingdom’s affection for the national team reflects the new, more nationalistic Saudi Arabia rising under powerful Crown Prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The win over Argentina sparked celebrations across the Arab world, from Cairo to Gaza City in a rare display of Arabi unity.
That pride and patriotism was undimmed on Saturday, even as crestfallen fans filtered out of the stadium.
“That joy lives forever,” said Osama al-Jamal, a 22-year-old student who drove from Riyadh to watch his team play.
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