The weather in Saudi Arabia was not quite what Roberto Mancini would have envisaged upon his competitive debut with his new side, but still they did enough to open 2026 World Cup qualification with victory against Pakistan.
The Gulf side, seeking to make a third successive global finals, opened their second-round campaign on Thursday night with a 4-0 win at the new Al Fateh Club Stadium in Al Ahsa.
Yet it was the weather that played a principal part in the evening’s encounter, with the rain and strong winds battering play - and the dugouts.
Mancini, appointed in August as Herve Renard’s permanent successor, spent most of the match wrapped up in a Saudi national-team-issue raincoat.
Speaking afterwards, the former Manchester City and Italy manager, said: "In Italy, the rain is a good omen for us... and we achieved what we wanted from the match.”
Saleh Al Shehri, scorer in last November’s famous World Cup triumph against Argentina, grabbed the opening two goals for Saudi Arabia, striking in the sixth minute and then right after half-time.
However, the six-time World Cup participants had to wait until injury time to add to their tally, through goals from Al Nassr’s Abdulrahman Ghaneem and Al Shabab’s Abdullah Radif.
The win meant they kicked off Group G with maximum points, with Tajikistan and Jordan playing out a 1-1 draw in the pool’s other match.
The match in Al Ahsa not only represented Mancini’s first competitive game, but also provided his first victory in five matches since taking charge.
It marked, too, the national team’s first win since that "crazy" success against Argentina in Qatar – 12 months ago.
Saudi Arabia are next in action on Tuesday, against Jordan in Amman, while Pakistan host Tajikistan at the Jinnah Sports Stadium in Islamabad.
The top two teams in the group book a place in the third round, where Asia’s leading 18 sides compete for eight spots at the expanded 2026 World Cup.