Aside from all the thrilling action, one of the great things about the FIFA World Cup is that it becomes a melting pot of different cultures. As countries gather to battle it out on the green turf, huge groups of supporter follow in their wake, bringing with them different languages, foods, and traditions. One such side is Saudi Arabia who’s match against host nation Russia kicks off the tournament. So, ahead of the opening whistle, let’s take second and have a closer look at the Saudi Arabia football team and their history.
For those whose memory can stretch back, Saudi Arabia’s world cup history has not been kind to them. In 2002 they were knocked out of the group stages after suffering a humiliating 8-0 defeat to Germany. Again, in 2006, dreams disintegrated when they slid out of the first round with only two goals to their name. And, for the 2010 and 2014 tournaments, Saudi Arabia failed to qualify. Now, although its highly doubtful the Kingdom will be raising the trophy at the end of this year’s World Cup, the world will definitely be watching them with keens eyes this Thursday.
Before we get to the Saudi Arabia football team, let’s start with the Green Falcon’s manager: Juan Antonio Pizzi. For those from Spain’s Pizzi will be a familiar name. Between 1994 and 1998 he capped 22 appearances for the Spanish national side. The Argentinian also turned out for Barcelona, playing with the Catalan club for two seasons. Here, he scored 18 goals in competitive matches and helped the side raise the Spanish Supercup in 1996.
Pizzi began his managing career 2005. He enjoyed the most success when he took control of Chile’s national side. In 2016, he directed the team to victory at the Copa America Centenario. But, after to failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in 2017, Pizzi resigned. Later that year he was snapped up by Saudi Arabia where he has been since. And, now, he is helping to transform their football, moving away from the counterattack culture that defined the team for so long. Under Pizzi, Saudi look set to play in a 4-2-3-1 formation and have begun to play a solid game bringing the ball out from the back.
Abdullah al-Mayouf - Yasser al-Mosailem - Mohammed al-Owais
Yasser al-Mosailem and Mohammed al-Owais are the two likely contenders for the starting position between the posts. Al-Mosailem is the most experienced of the three with 32 caps.
Mansoor al-Harbi - Osama Hawsawi - Ali al-Bulaihi - Omar Hawsawi - Mohammed al-Breik - Yasser al-Shahrani - Motaz Hawsawi
With 134 caps, Osama Hawsawi’s presence in the backline seems almost guaranteed. Also, voted the best defender in the Saudi Professional League and with only 17 caps under his belt, be sure to keep an eye out for Motaz Hawsawi.
Salman al-Faraj - Yahya al-Shehri - Hattan Bahebri - Abdulmalek al-Khaibri - Mohamed Kanno - Abdullah Otayf - Abdullah al-Khaibari - Housain al-Mogahwi - Taisir al-Jassim - Salem al-Dawsari
Featuring as part of the Saudi football team since 2007, Taisir al-Jassim, with 131 caps to his name, is a midfield mainstay.
Mohammad al-Sahlawi - Fahad al-Muwallad - Muhannad Assiri
At 31 years old Mohammad al-Sahlawi is the Green Falcon’s main goalscorer. He’s scored 28 goals in 39 appearances.
Expectations for The FIFA World Cup Opening Match
The FIFA World Cup opening match will be Saudi’s most important. A win against Russia in the host nation’s sprawling capital, Moscow, could set them on the way to advancing from the group stages. Also in their group are Egypt and Uruguay, both strong sides who will challenge the Falcons. But, the Kingdom do know how to disrupt the flow of their opponents play and if they can secure a win and a draw the last 16 could very well be on the table.