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RIYADH: Salem Al-Dawsari more than matched his spectacular World Cup strike against Argentina against Mali on Tuesday but could not prevent Saudi Arabia losing 3-1 to the Africans in Portugal.

Roberto Mancini’s men were mostly second best in their last friendly before the start of 2026 World Cup qualification in November. With the Green Falcons now falling to nine defeats in the last 11 games, there is much for the Italian, appointed in August, to think about.

The major consolation, apart from the reminder that Al-Dawsari can conjure something special out of nothing, is that Pakistan and Jordan, next month’s opposition in Group G, are unlikely to be anywhere near as clinical as Mali. In the first half they had four attempts on goal which resulted in two goals, one ruled out marginally for offside and a last-ditch save.

Mali sounded a warning in the seventh minute when a simple ball from deep caught the defence flat-footed. Fousseni Diabate was anything but as he raced clear to enter the area but the Swiss-based star got the ball caught in his feet and Mohammed Al-Owais got down well to make the save.

There was not much the man from Al-Hilal could do eight minutes later, however, as Moussa Doumbia cut inside on the left side of the area and his low shot took a cruel deflection off Ali Lajami and ended up in the back of the net.

Saudi Arabia tried to fight back and looked lively in the final third with some fast passing and movement but they could not quite find the all-important pass. The closest they came in the first half was a dangerous corner that goalkeeper Ismael Diawara palmed away under pressure from Lajami.

Just after the half-hour, Diabete picked up the ball on the right side, cut inside Ali Al-Bulaihi and unleashed a perfect low shot into the bottom corner. It was a fine finish but there was a hint of offside as he collected the ball and so, after a lengthy VAR pause, it proved, and the strike was ruled out.

It was a temporary reprieve. Just before the break, Hamari Traore was the recipient of a lucky deflection off Al-Bulaihi on the halfway line and then broke for goal. Just on the right side of the area, the Real Sociedad full-back shot across goal and while Al-Owais managed to get a hand to the ball, he couldn’t prevent the Africans extending their lead.

The second half started quietly but then, out of nowhere, Saudi Arabia were back in the game just before the hour. Al-Dawsari picked up the ball on the left side, cut inside to the left corner of the area and then unleashed an unstoppable shot that flew high into the opposite corner to give the goalkeeper no chance. It was stunning and worthy of winning any game.

Saudi Arabia were determined that it would be more than a consolation and they redoubled their attacking efforts but Diabate should have restored the two-goal cushion only to send his shot wide from close range.The last goal came with 20 minutes remaining. Another long ball caused problems and Lassine Sinayoko held off Al-Bulaihi to fire home from just inside the area.

Soon after, Saleh Al-Shehri fired just over. There was almost another stunning strike in injury time but Ali Hazzazi’s swirling shot from well outside the area hit the post and that was that, though there was still time for Mali to hit the woodwork. A 4-1 scoreline would have been harsh but that is a small consolation for Saudi Arabia as they lose another game.

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