It was an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to truly underline how they have become a force in Asian football in this World Cup qualification cycle. Sitting at the top of Group B, Bert van Marwijk’s side could have taken a giant step towards Russia with a positive result against Japan on Tuesday. As it turned out, defeat in Saitama inadvertently showcased the progress they have made.
Saudi Arabia's starting players pose during a photo session prior to their football match in Group B of the 2018 World Cup Asian qualifier against Japan at Saitama Stadium in Saitama on November 15, 2016. KAZUHIRO NOGI / AFP
Japan's midfielder Hiroshi Kiyotake (L) and Saudi Arabia's midfielder Salman Alfaraj (R) fight for the ball during their football match in Group B of the 2018 World Cup Asian qualifier at Saitama Stadium in Saitama on November 15, 2016. KAZUHIRO NOGI / AFP