Welcome back to our World Cup 2018 series! We’re taking a closer look at some of the top class teams making their way to Russia this summer. Make sure you’re all caught up on some of the lesser-known teams before we get started on the big boys.
Back to this week, though, where we’e paying a visit to the only country with a coastline on both the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. It’s the world’s largest producer and exporter of oil, with terrain mostly defined by desert and mountains…
Football is the most popular sport in the country, though they’ve only managed to qualify for the World Cup 4 times previously. It’s been a bit of a tumultuous road to Russia 2018, as well. Management issues have seen 3 different people in the role of head coach within a 3 month period. Despite these setbacks, the fans have stuck by their so-called Green Falcons, and the team heads into the competition with high hopes and some promising players.
That’s right, we’re getting to know… Saudi Arabia!
Location: Takes up most of the Arabian Peninsula and shares borders with Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the UAE, Oman and Yemen.
Capital City: Riyadh
Official Language: Arabic
Famous for: Being home to the two holiest places in Islam—Al-Masjid al-Haram and Al-Masjid an-Nabawi.
Fun Fact: It’s the largest country in the world without a river. It’s not a surprise, really, as around 95% of the country is considered desert or semi-desert.
Road to the World Cup
Securing a place in Russia 2018 has been a somewhat rocky road for Saudi Arabia. It was manager Bert van Marwijk who actually guided the team through qualifications. Their place was secured after a nifty 1-0 win over Japan.
After there were issues settling van Marwijk’s new contract, however, he was replaced by Edgardo Bauza in mid-September. The latter was only able to take charge for 5 unsatisfactory games before he was replaced by Juan Antonio Pizzi… 3 days before the final World Cup draw.
Despite these issues behind the scenes, Saudi Arabia are clearly taking the competition seriously. You may have noticed that 9 of the top Saudi players have shown up in La Liga this season. These loans are presumably an attempt to make up for a lack of international experience and prepare the players for the biggest competition of their lives. Not a bad place to start!
Players to Watch
Al Abed plays for Saudi team (get used to this—the country has some strict laws when it comes to players representing foreign clubs) Al-Hilal and can shine as both a winger and striker. He gave the nation a bit of a scare when he was forced to undergo surgery for a groin issue earlier this year, but thankfully he appears to be making a full recovery.
Al-Mullawad is a key part of Saudi’s attacking strategy and is one of the top goal scorers in he current squad. The young winger plays for Al-Ittihad, but is currently on loan to Spanish side Levante UD. He scored the winning goal against Japan that secured his country a place in the World Cup, so we expect great things to come!
Al-Sahlawi plays for Saudi club Al-Nassr. He’s a top goal scorer and even earned his first hat-trick for Saudi Arabia in the World Cup qualifiers against Timor-Leste. If anyone’s going to be getting the ball in the net for Saudi this summer, it’s Al-Sahlawi.
Hawsawi is the captain of the current Saudi squad and plays for Al-Hilal in his club career. He’s a solid defender, with international experience that should enable him to rally the younger players and prepare them to play in a World Cup competition.
Manager: Juan Antonio Pizzi
FIFA Ranking: 63
Saudi find themselves in the group with the home nation, so their supporters are going to need to be extra loud if they want to be heard!
What They Have Going for Them
- The Saudi team’s biggest vulnerability is that some of their players lack international club experience. With 9 players on loan in La Liga, though, this problem is clearly being taken seriously.
- This is an interesting World Cup in that some major teams, like Italy, didn’t make the cut. This could mean that there’s opportunity for some smaller teams to make their mark. If Saudi Arabia are willing to step up to the task, anything could happen.
Plus, according to the BBC, Saudi Arabia have the honour of scoring one of the best World Cup goals of all time. Judge for yourself.
They’re not first-timers and they certainly have the potential to shake up the competition. We look forward to seeing how far the Green Falcons can go in the 2018 World Cup. حظ سعيد!
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