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Is a title challenge possible for Man Utd?

Manchester United
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By ESPN Staff

Saudi coach blames rain for rout

HAMBURG, June 19 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia coach Marcos Paqueta said steady rain and a slippery pitch hurt his team the same way stifling heat had troubled Ukraine against Spain last week.

'Unfortunately we don't have a lot of rain in Saudi Arabia,' Paqueta told reporters after the 4-0 World Cup defeat by Ukraine on Monday. 'They are not used to playing on wet grounds.

'It's very difficult, it's like Ukraine in their first game (a 4-0 defeat by Spain). They had to play in a lot of heat.'

Paqueta took his team to Hamburg four days before Monday's Group H match to try to get used to the cooler temperatures and wet conditions.

But it was to no avail and Saudi Arabia's weaknesses were exposed in the 36th minute when the rain got heavier, goalkeeper Mabrouk Zaid slipping as he tried to save a dipping long-range drive from Serhiy Rebrov which made it 2-0.

'We knew it would rain, the players were warned,' said Paqueta.

'It was very wet, the ball was very fast hitting the grass. Our players had great difficulties controlling the ball.'

But Paqueta's sunny Brazilian disposition was hardly clouded by the defeat.

'I'm at ease, I have peace of mind,' said Paqueta, whose team were destroyed 8-0 by Germany in the 2002 World Cup. 'We all did our utmost.

'Unfortunately it happened to us. It happened to Ukraine on the first day. They didn't give up. I want to congratulate my players.'

Delighted Saudi Arabian soccer officials had already given the team a cash bonus, awarding each player 100,000 riyals after the 2-2 opening-match draw with Tunisia, a prize initially promised only for a victory.

'We have to try to be the best we can and we're going to do that to the last minute,' said Paqueta.

'The important thing is the players showed they were committed and fought, and that we eliminated the image of Saudi Arabia at the last World Cup.'