World Cup 2018 Saudi Arabia team profile: How they qualified, star man, World Cup record, fixtures
Saudi Arabia have endured a chaotic build-up to Russia 2018 having gone through three coaches since qualification.
- Honours: N/A
- FIFA Ranking: 66
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
Their qualifying campaign began three years ago, with the Green Falcons having to navigate two rounds to make it to Russia. The 67th-ranked Saudis, coasted through the second round of qualifying, winning six and drawing two as they went unbeaten, topping a group that contained United Arab Emirates, Palestine, Malaysia and Timor-Leste.
And, in the third round of qualifying, they held their nerve to down first-placed Japan on the final matchday to beat Australia to second place and snatch one of the four automatic places up for offer in the Asian section of qualifying.
STAR MAN - Mohammed Al-Sahlawi (Al-Nassr)
The 31-year-old plays for Al-Nassr in the Professional League where he has hit 102 goals in 174 games since moving there in 2009. International recognition followed in 2010 and he has not looked back, firing 28 goals in 39 games. The forward led scoring in qualification with 14 goals and has reportedly trained with Manchester United.
NEXT BIG THING - Fahad Al-Muwallad (Levante)
The Green Falcons take a fairly veteran squad to the finals, with their average age 29. Fahad Al-Muwallad, 23, has been superb in the qualifiers for Russia – in fact, such has been his excellence, he earned a move to Levante in January but has seen limited playing time.
Despite his relative youth, Al-Muwallad already has 44 caps at international level, with 10 goals to his name, and his pace and trickery should provide cause for concern in Group A.
THE COACH - Juan Antonio Pizzi
Whether Pizzi will be the incumbent come World Cup kick off is not guaranteed, given the Green Falcon hierarchy’s propensity to hire and fire at will.
Bert van Marwijk, who took Netherlands to the 2010 World Cup final, secured qualification at Australia’s expense but left his role in September after not being able to agree an extension to his contract and was replaced by Edgardo Bauza but after two friendly defeats, the Argentinian was sacked after a disagreement with those above him.
WORLD CUP HISTORY
First qualified for a World Cup in 1994, where they made the last 16, where they won two games – against Morocco and Belgium. They would lose to Sweden at the first knockout stage, and in the following three trips to the World Cup, failed to secure another win. 2002 was a particular low, where they played three, lost three and conceded 12.
REASONS FOR OPTIMISM
They have a chance. They are arguably the weakest team at the tournament but are in the weakest group. Uruguay should have enough quality to get the job done but then there is not much to choose between Russia, a potentially Mohamed Salah-less Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
- June 14th: Russia
- June 19th: Egypt
- June 25th: Uruguay