Saudi Arabia

Population: 22,700,000
Area: 1,960,582 km²
Capital: Riyadh
Language: Arabic

Saudi Arabia convinced early on by winning their preliminary group with a 100% record and then by winning their final group ahead of Iran which sent them to the World Cup.
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Participations: (2) 1994 and 1998
Best placing: Second round 1994
Topscorers: Sami Al Jaber and Amin, 2 goals

Jun 01 - KSA v GER  in Sapporo
Jun 06 - KSA v CMR  in Saitama
Jun 11 - KSA v IRE  in Yokohama

Sami Al Jaber is a veteran from both the two previous Saudi Arabian World Cup teams, 1994 and 1998. He operates mostly as center-forward or attacking midfielder and scored 8 goals during the qualifiers.

WCA VERDICT: First round exit
Saudi Arabia is the questionmark of this group. Will we see the exciting team of '94 or the less exciting from '98? They seem to be the weakest side in the group and very little indicates that they will avoid bottom position.


by Matthew Monk

    Even though they have qualified for the last two World Cups, and put up a strong performance at USA 94, Saudi Arabia are still the least well known qualifiers for the first World Cup to be held in Asia. If you were to ask most football fans what they know about the Saudis, they will probably mention Sami Al-Jaber or Saeed Owairan (and that goal against Belgium), may mention old Confederations Cup tournaments in Riyadh, and almost certainly will talk about millions of dollars of oil money, pumped into the development of the game by success hungry Saudi princes.

    Yet few will have any idea how the Saudis came to be in Japan and Korea, and fewer still will have in their team against Germany on June 1. The Saudis are in a way the most mysterious and enigmatic of qualifiers this time around. Emerging from the convoluted Asian qualifiers just ahead of Iran, Saudi Arabia are almost a throwback to the old days. Still drawing almost wholly on home based players with limited experience of international football, the Saudis are in a way the closest thing this World Cup has to the Kuwait's or Haiti's of yesteryear - unknowns, there to make up the numbers and pay lip service to this 'world' cup.

    Of course this Eurocentric and blinkered view ignores the fact that Asia has had successful continental club and nations tournaments for decades, and that Saudi Arabia regularly supply teams in the very final stages of them. Indeed, Saudi Arabia are a regional football superpower, financially backed by big business as well as mega-rich individuals with stadia and training facilities the envy of South America and Africa, and as good as anything in Japan, Korea, the USA or Europe. Only in history and culture does Saudi Arabia differ to the big European nations. Where England or Italy has developed a football structure and culture over generations, Saudi Arabia has tried to buy it over the last twenty years. And to some extent it has done it. The Saudis will line up this summer in their third successive World Cup Finals (something England, France and Portugal cannot boast) and although the glory days of 1994 seem far off, they go to Japan and Korea with more expectation of success than Ecuador, China or Belgium, and with an open group to play in.

    Drawing Germany, Ireland and Cameroon is a good group for the Saudis, containing as it does three 'hit and miss' teams all more than capable of off days. None of these three teams is going to win the World Cup; indeed none may even pass round two. But they can all certainly beat each other, and should beat Saudi Arabia.

    For a team that has gone backwards in the past eight years though (as Saudi Arabia has) ending up in such a group may be a blessing in disguise. Yes, they are rated by most as fourth favourites, but should the games be tight, low scoring affairs, then the 1994 factor may come into account again. Eight years ago, in the USA, the Saudis reached round two after beating Morocco and Belgium, through a combination of fantastic individual skill and rapid acclimatisation to the draining heat of an American summer. This summer the world will be coming to Asia, in the Saudis backyard. Now while East Asia is a lot wetter and more humid than the Arabian Peninsula, the Saudi players should be used to playing in such conditions, given their experience of pan-Asian club competition. Certainly you would expect the Saudis to able to cope with it better than the Irish - just remember Steve Staunton positively melting in the heat of Miami in 1994.

    That just leaves the Saudis to find the individual skill to propel them through. Here is where it gets harder. Some of the old stagers are still around, like Sami Al-Jaber. He recently had spells at Nottingham Forest and Wolverhampton Wanderers in the English First Division (really the second division, not the Premiership), and while this is hardly international level, he at least will be able to tell his teammates what the Irish will be like. Around him, Nawaf Al-Temyat (the current Asian Footballer of the Year) will provide solid support if fit, but you are left feeling that there is no spark here to lift the team if the going gets tough.

    In qualification Talal Al-Meshal and Obeid Al-Dossary certainly banged in the goals, scoring 20 between them, to go with Al-Jaber's eight. Indeed, the Saudis scored 47 goals in qualifying, which will give them some hope. It must not be forgotten though that 30 of these goals came against Vietnam, Bangladesh and Mongolia in the first group stage - hardly earth-shattering opposition. In the final qualifying group they were much shakier, losing to Iran and drawing with Bahrain, all of which meant they only avoided an intercontinental playoff with Ireland (and certain elimination) on the very last day.

    Unfortunately for Saudi Arabia the other three teams in their group hitting form at the moment, and this looks like continuing as the World Cup gets closer. The Irish are ready to take on anyone after victories over Holland, Russia and the Czech Republic, Cameroon were recently crowned African Champions again, and the Germans are after all still German. More potently, Germany's recent 7:1 victory is a sign of their intent. Hurt by a 5:1 drubbing at English hands and the mocking derision of the whole European continent, Germany want to prove they are still a world power.

    The draw has been kind to these four teams, as the two qualifiers will compete against Spain, Slovenia or Paraguay for a place in the quarterfinals, on the face of it winnable games. Will Saudi Arabia be there? You have to say no, although stranger things have happened in the past (Costa Rica in 1990 anyone?). In reality, the Saudis will have to depend on low scoring, defensive games, where they make sneak a late penalty or set-play to see them through. It is very unlikely to happen. And no matter how much oil money is spent between now and the big kick-off, Saudi chances this summer look very slim indeed.


by Jan Alsos

    The Saudis made their first appearance in 1994 and exceeded all expectations topping their first round group featuring Holland. The memorable solo-goal from Saeed Owairan which beat Belgium rivalled any goal scored in World Cup history. They eventually bowed out to Sweden in the round of 16, but Saudi Arabia had showed the world that teams from the Gulf region could play the game even at the highest level.

    A less exciting team showed up in 1998. The Saudis were never really in the race for another second round place grouped with France and Denmark. Only one point was taken - against newcomers South Africa.




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