36 min: Getting a bit stop-starty now and the Saudis have to make a change due to an injury to Al Bulayhi, the problem (a hamstring maybe) occurring after that shove from Lozano. On comes Riyadh Sharahili.
34 min: A corner at last and it’s to Mexico on their right. It’s an outswinger to Gallardo whose first-time half-volley from the edge of the box rather balloons over the bar.
32 min: The 0-0 at half-time has been a popular scoreline in this World Cup so again there’s a feeling that the best stuff will come after the break. Meanwhile, the tackles are really starting to fly in now. Chavez nutmegs Al Hassan, who is booked for bringing him down.
30 min: Lozano leaves a bit on Al Bulayhi as the ball runs out for a Saudi goal kick. Whistles from the crowd but it’s something and nothing really.
28 min: Al Shehri is shown a yellow card by Michael Oliver. That’s one apiece now although the Saudis lead the naughty list in this World Cup with nine bookings.
26 min: Mexico look far more alive than they have done so far in this World Cup. Needs must I guess.
And… so close! A brilliant cross from the right is met by Pineda but just as you expect the ball to nestle in the back of the net, it’s still there on view in the area as the Saudis somehow smother it – Al Ghanam the hero – around three yards from goal.
24 min: Pineda shows his dribbling skills down the left and then wins a foul in the centre circle. Mexico continuing to get touches in the Saudi Arabia box and Pineda pops up again to hit a right-foot shot from around 16 yards. He strikes it well but two Saudi defenders jump in to take some of the pace of it and Owais makes a diving save.
22 min: A dinked cross into the Saudi box is headed clear and drops to Luis Chavez on the edge of the box. He connects with a volley but it’s straight at the goalkeeper and hit with insufficient power. Not a great combo.
21 min: A poor start for fans of corners. None so far. The tempo has just dropped a little after that frenetic start.
20 min: As a Mexico cross drifts behind, let’s have our first ‘as it stands’ of the evening. Basically, nothing has changed.
17 min: 56% possession for Mexico so far with just 29% for Saudi Arabia. It’s 15% for ‘other/don’t understand the question’.
15 min: A first yellow card and it’s shown to Edson Alvarez for a late challenge. He gets a bit gobby with Michael Oliver but the English referee waves him away. Meanwhile, Abdulhamid needs a bit of treatment after being on the end of that tackle. He’s fine.
13 min: Everyone expects Al Dawsari to take it, including Ochoa in the Mexican goal. Kanno steps up and his whipped dipper curls only just over the crossbar. Close!
12 min: Free-kick to Saudi Arabia just outside the box as Saud Abdulhamid is brought down. Great chance here in such a dangerous position…
Roger Kirkby mails: “Hi David. Calling this the Gubba/Dellor blog is all wrong. This is the F1 blog the other is the 50km walk in comparison. 2 sets of greyhounds going at it here. The other game will be pedestrian compared to this.”
You’ve called it Roger. A crackling start.
10 min: Massive roars from the predominantly Saudi crowd whenever one of their players puts in a tackle. It’s making for a cracking atmosphere you have to say.
8 min: Another Mexican attack causes a problem. Jesus Gallardo whips in an awkward cross and Al Owais doesn’t know whether to stick or twist, eventually just about getting enough on the ball to stop Henry Martin getting a touch for Mexico.
The Saudis respond and Kanno takes a crossfield ball on his instep and goes for goal from the right edge of the box. It’s high and wide though.
7 min: A concern here for Saudi Arabia as key man Salem Al Dawsari goes down after contesting a challenge. Did he twist an ankle? Huge applause as he gets to his feet somewhat gingerly.
5 min: The game settles down a little but it’s been a bright opening by the men in green: that’s Mexico on this occasion.
3 min: And a first shot from Saudi Arabia too although Al Shehri’s weak volley is a dribbler.
Suddenly, Mexico break and Vega is through on goal. A golden chance for his team’s first goal of the tournament but the alert Al Owais dashes out and smothers the shot. A lively start!
2 min: There’s a lot of green on my TV screen. A verdant green pitch, Mexico in all green and the Saudis in white with a green trim. This may not be the best time to inform you that I’m red-green colour blind. Mexico get in an early shot (I think) as Luis Chavez drives wide of the post from distance. An early sighter for both him and me.
Kick-off: Peep! Peep! Peep! Michael Oliver blows his whistle. The Saudi fans are out in force in the same stadium where they shocked Argentina what seems ages ago but was probably last week. There’s a healthy Mexico contingent too and, boy, did they belt out the national anthem!
Saudi Arabia’s other goal in this World Cup was scored by striker Saleh Al Shehri. Keep an eye out for him along with Al Dawsari while I’ve also been impressed by languid midfielder Mohammed Kanno, a sort of Saudi Philip Billing (both Kanno and the Bournemouth man measure in at 6ft 5).
Surely Mexico can score a football goal tonight. But are we putting faith in 30-year-old striker Henry Martin? Six goals in 28 appearances for his country.
Salem Al Dawsari is the golden boy of Saudi Arabian football and he cemented that status further with his brilliant winner against Argentina. Less memorable was his penalty miss against Poland.
Here’s a good omen though. Al Dawsari scored the winner (v Egypt) in the Saudis’ final group game of the 2018 World Cup. It didn’t make a difference to qualification that time as Saudi Arabia had lost their previous two games but if he could repeat the trick tonight, the Green Falcons would make the last 16.
Some might say this MBM is the Tony Gubba/Ralph Dellor option this evening. For those wanting the Motson/Davies ‘big one’ between Argentina and Poland, it’s right here with Michael Butler.
There’s a great moment in one of the Guardian World Cup podcasts earlier this week when Paul MacInnes meets two female Saudi footballs fan in Doha. Have a listen (23 minutes in) and a read.
Paul: “What can female football fans bring to a previously all-male crowd?”
Changes for both teams. Saudi Arabia would appear to be lining up in a 3-4-3 formation due to the suspension of Abdulelah Al Malki, the usual shield in front of the defence. Al Malki picked up a second yellow against Poland.
Hassan Tambakti is part of a three-man defence while Sultan Ghannam and Ali Al Hassan also come in.
Mexico are one of just two teams without a goal in this World Cup and, understandably, they’ve mixed things up in attack.
Henry Martin is the focal point while Alexis Vega, Orbelin Pineda and Hirving Lozano are the three in behind for El Tri in what appears to be a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Jorge Sanchez and Edson Alvarez also get starts but Wolves’ Raul Jimenez has to settle for a place on the bench again.
Saudi Arabia: Al-Owais, Tambakti, Al-Amri, Al-Bulayhi, Al-Ghanam, Al-Hassan, Kanno, Abdulhamid, Al-Buraikan, Al-Shehri, Salem Al-Dawsari.
Subs: Madu, Otayf, Al-Naji, Al-Abed, Bahbri, Al-Aboud, Al-Aqidi, Nasser Al-Dawsari, Asiri, Sharahili, Al-Rubaie.
Mexico: Ochoa, Sanchez, Montes, Moreno, Gallardo, Edson Alvarez, Chavez, Lozano, Pineda, Vega, Martin.
Subs: Talavera, Araujo, Vasquez, Arteaga, Romo, Rodriguez, Jimenez, Funes Mori, Cota, Gutierrez, Herrera, Guardado, Antuna, Alvarado, Kevin Alvarez.
Referee: It’s the Premier League’s very own Michael Oliver.
Possible scenarios in this most open of groups…
Poland: Poland qualify with a win or a draw against Argentina. They are not necessarily eliminated if they lose, provided Saudi Arabia don’t beat Mexico.
Argentina: Argentina must beat Poland to be sure of going through. A draw will be enough if Saudi Arabia and Mexico draw, or unless Mexico win that game by four or more goals
Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia qualify with a win. A draw will be enough if Poland beat Argentina.
Mexico: Mexico qualify if they win and Poland beat Argentina. If Poland and Argentina draw, and Mexico win, it has to be by four goals or more to overhaul Argentina’s goal difference.
Mexico manager Gerardo Martino goes by the nickname ‘Tata’. And, yes, here it comes… it could be ta ta to his team after today’s Group C action at the World Cup. Silence… taps mic… whistly feedback. Okay, that’s lame. But lame is an apt word to describe the Mexicans so far. Two games, one point, no goals. El Tri have made it out of the group stage (before going out in the last 16) in each of the last seven World Cups. That streak is now in grave danger.
Mexico must win against Saudi Arabia to have any chance of reaching the knockout stages and that would have seemed a reasonable ask before this weirdest of World Cups got underway. But the Saudis have been bright, sending shockwaves around the sporting world by beating Argentina 2-1 in their opening game. Despite further evidence of being a decent outfit, they couldn’t follow it up against Poland, losing 2-0, but the Green Falcons remain in the hunt to make the last 16 for the first time since 1994. They head to the Lusail Stadium (situated in the north of Qatar according to my When Saturday Comes wallchart) with their fate in their own hands.
The two sides have played each other five times previously, with Mexico winning four of those head-to-heads. All took place between 1995 and 1999 so that’s hardly form to rely on. What matters is the here and now so let’s get this thing on.
1pm: Mexico City