For the first time since 2006, Saudi Arabia topped their group in the final round of AFC World Cup qualifying, clinching their place in Qatar with victory over Australia in the final round. Last match. The second-lowest-ranked side to reach the World Cup this year (51st in the world) should have plenty of confidence after finishing over 24th-ranked Korea Republic.
The good news for the Green Falcons is that they had the opportunity to play numerous pre-tournament friendlies following their qualifying campaign, including several against Qatar-led sides. The bad news is that the team have only found the net four times in nine matches.
Coach Hervé Renard, who led Ivory Coast and Zambia to Africa Cup of Nations titles, is finally at his first World Cup. He took over a team that had only reached the knockout stage once before, in 1994.
The talent of this year’s squad doesn’t compare to most on the pitch, but it’s a group of players who know each other (most play in the Saudi Pro League), many of whom have Cup experience world since 2018. Renard will need to produce some more of his tournament magic to take this team on a run in Qatar.
Group C schedule (all times Eastern)
– Argentina, November 22, 5 a.m.
– Poland, November 26, 8 a.m.
– Mexico, Nov. 30, 2 p.m.
Herve Renardhired in July 2019
Players to watch
Salem Al-Dawsari, winger
Playing as an attacking midfielder or wide forward in the Renard system, Al-Dawsari was the top scorer in qualifying with seven appearances in 13 appearances. He will need to get back into shape after injury kept him out of several pre-tournament friendlies, but the 2021 AFC Champions League Most Valuable Player will be crucial in overturning his goalscoring drought. crew.
Yasser Al-Shahrani, defender
Al-Shahrani is a versatile defender who usually plays at left-back for the Green Falcons. He was one of Saudi Arabia’s most consistent players in qualifying, starting 15 matches and assisting a defense that allowed just 10 goals.
Salman Al-Faraj, midfielder
The defensive midfielder has been captain of this side for years but comes in with an injury problem, having injured his shoulder in a recent friendly against Iceland. The 33-year-old Al-Hilal player is one of the most experienced members of the Green Falcons, who are in their third World Cup cycle. He scored from a penalty in 2018 in the team’s only victory against Egypt. Al-Faraj has been sorely missed in a few friendlies before the tournament, and his ability to control play in midfield could give this Saudi attack a boost if he is at his best.
Candidate in small groups
Firas Al-Buraikan, striker
Saudi Arabia’s main man Al Fetah broke into the national team in qualifying in 2019. He earned a starting spot by scoring game-winning goals off the bench in back-to-back qualifiers against Japan and Turkey. China.
It appeared Al-Buraikan had secured their role as the Green Falcons’ No.9 after qualifying but poor form in the autumn friendlies left the starting spot up for grabs. Even if he is relegated to a reserve role behind Saleh Al-Shehri, the 22-year-old should at least play a sparking role on the bench if needed.
world cup history
– Sixth appearance
– Last appearance: 2018
– Best result: Round of 16 in 1994
Outlook and expectations
Few Asian nations have had more success on a global scale than Saudi Arabia. But this year’s group features three tough matchups. Powerhouse Argentina are the likely winners, and the Mexican and Polish sides make qualifying for the knockout stage a tall order – only Group E Costa Rica are less likely to make it out of their group.
If there’s one quality that stands out from the Green Falcons, it’s their ability to stay compact and leave limited space for opposing forwards, something that will be put to the test by global talents Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski. The talent is there to end the goalscoring woes at Al-Dawsari and Al-Buraikan. But any return to the round of 16 will depend on whether or not they can find the back of the net.
World Cup team
GUARDIANS: Nawaf Al-Aqidi (Al-Nassr), Mohamed Al-Owais (Al-Hilal), Mohamed Al-Yami (Al-Ahly)
DEFENDERS: Saud Abdulhamid (Al-Hilal), Abdulelah Al-Amri (Al-Nassr), Mohammed Al-Breik (Al-Hilal), Ali Al-Bulaihi (Al-Hilal), Sultan Al-Ghanam (Al-Nassr), Yasser Al-Shahrani (Al-Hilal), Abdullah Madu (Al-Nassr), Hassan Tambakti (Al-Shabab)
MIDFIELDS: Abdulrahman Al-Aboud (Ittihad), Nasser Al-Dawsari (Al-Hilal), Salem Al-Dawsari (Al-Hilal), Salman Al-Faraj (Al-Hilal), Ali Al-Hassan (Al-Nassr), Abdulelah Al-Malki (Al-Hilal), Sami Al-Najei (Al-Nassr), Hattan Bahebri (Al-Shabab), Mohamed Kanno (Al-Hilal), Abdullah Otayf (Al-Hilal), Riyadh Sharahili (Abha)
FORWARDERS: Firas Al-Buraikan (Al-Fateh), Fahad Al-Muwallad (Al-Shabab), Saleh Al-Shehri (Al-Hilal). Haitham Asiri (Al-Ahly)
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