Saudis banking on another win to add icing to USA '94 cake
By CHARLIE CHARTERS
SAUDI Arabia are close to pulling off another regional soccer triumph after top side Al Qadisiyah squeezed through to the finals of the Asian Cup Winners Cup.
A win in this club tournament would sit nicely with their first-ever national team triumph in the recent Asian final round of World Cup qualifiers, when Saudi and South Korea won through to USA '94.
But, just like the World Cup competitions, the Saudis had a Brazilian import to thank, for putting the team through to the final round.
The win sets up a possible Asian East-West showdown with either semi-finalists Yokohama Marinos from Japan, or Hong Kong's South China and India's East Bengal who are just about to complete their quarter-final.
Al Qadisiyah proved too strong for Qatar's Emir Cup champions Al Arabi with a 1-0 win after a 1-1 draw in the first leg.
The goal that sealed the result came from Brazilian Carlos who brought to life an otherwise dour battle with a brilliantly struck free kick from the edge of the Qatari box.
The win helps underscore a peculiar Asian trait in world football - successful soccer leagues can be created overnight if the money is right.
Since the seventies Saudi Arabia has banked heavily on imported talent to help re-invigorate the local game.
When the country was first awash with petrodollars the coaches included Toninho, Paulo Cesar Carpeggiani, Tele Santana and Roberto Rivelino.
This smorgasbord of Brazilian flair and expertise helped push the team to back-to-back Asian Cup wins in 1984 and 1988. By this stage the torch had been passed to a new generation of Brazilians.
One such expatriate was Jose Candido who has just powered Saudi to their first-ever trip to the World Cup, although he resigned before the final qualifying match was played.
So with players like Carlos and coaches like Candido, the Saudis may have a national game that is less than national. But as long as they're winning they don't really care.
THE Japanese professional J.League is still surging forward despite the crushing exit of Japan's national team from the World Cup and also despite the continued absence of one of it's most touted expatriate players, former England captain Gary Linekerwho plays for Nagoya Grampus.
Lineker has pulled out of the J.League injured for the second time this inaugural season with a recurrence of an injury suffered two years ago when he was playing with Tottenham.
The 32-year-old is recovering in Chicago, having just gone under the knife of Dr Lowell S. Weil, a specialist foot surgeon who operated on the famed striker's big toe.
The toe was reportedly ''surgically reconstructed'' after physiotherapy and medication failed to do the trick. Dr Weil reports Lineker should be mended in time to play in the final weeks of the Japanese season which finishes in the New Year.
SINGAPORE'S passionate soccer fans were blushing all this week with the news that one of the key players for the Malaysia Cup final next Sunday was in hospital under a false name having gashed open his buttocks in a bizarre accident.
Midfielder Fandi Ahmed - who played half a season with Dutch side Groningen - slashed himself while travelling on the team bus to a practice session.
Doctors report Fandi in a stable condition at the Singapore General Hospital where the millionaire footballer was checked in under the name of Wong Seng Kiat.