Saudi Arabia announced their 26-man squad list for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar as they will be the nation making the shortest trip to play the event. This is the sixth time the Falcons will find themselves at this stage. Coach Herve Renard will trust the familiar stars of the team to come up with the goods in the World Cup.
Saudi Arabia qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 1994 hosted by the USA. They went on to qualify for three more editions and then again in 2018 after missing out on the 2010 and 2014 editions. The best performance for the Falcons in the World Cup remains their debut tournament 28 years ago when they reach the last 16 stage. Their journey has ended in the group stages ever since. Mohamed Al-Deayea is the record appearance maker in the World Cup for Saudi Arabia having played 10 matches even though Sami Al-Jaber has been in four World Cups, more than anyone else from the nation. Sami is the top scorer in the competition anyway with three.
The 2018 World Cup was no different for Saudi Arabia as they fail to move out of the group stages again. Paired with Uruguay, Egypt and hosts Russia, the Falcons only managed to win the African nation in the last group stage game at a time they are already out of contention for the knockout. Still, the 2-1 win against Egypt was historical with Salem Al-Dawsari hitting the winner in the last minute after Al-Faraj scored from the spot to cancel out Mohamed Salah’s 22nd-minute opener. It ended Saudi Arabia’s 12-match unbeaten run in the World Cup. A pleasing gift after a 5-0 loss to the host in the first game and a narrow 1-0 loss to Uruguay in the next.
Saudi Arabia had a close battle with Japan for the top spot in their qualifying group but both always looked to secure automatic qualification for the 2022 World Cup. At last, Saudi Arabia secured first place with a point ahead of Japan and only lost one match to the Blue Samurais in the entire period. They won seven games and drew twice in the other matches scoring 12 and conceding six. Saleh Al-Shehri ranked as the top scorer for the nation with seven goals with Fahad Al-Muwallad assisting three. Mohamed Al-Owais kept 10 clean sheets with a save percentage of 81.6%.
Preparation for World Cup
In the six friendlies played prior to the tournament, Saudi Arabia managed to win only one game coming against Iceland early this month. The other three were losses including the 1-0 defeat to Croatia only days ago and two were goalless draws against Ecuador and the USA. The problem for Herve Renard’s side is a lack of scoring touch with only one goal scored in the win against Iceland and none in the others.
Saudi Arabia 2022 World Cup Squad
Goalkeepers: Mohamed Al-Owais (Al Hilal), Nawaf Al-Aqidi (Al Ahli), Mohamed Al-Yami (Al Nassr)
Defenders: Yasser Al-Shahrani (Al Hilal), Ali Al-Boleahi (Al Hilal), Abdulelah Al-Amri (Al Nassr), Abdullah Madu (Al Nassr), Hassan Tambakti (Al Shabab), Sultan Al-Ghanam (Al Nassr), Mohammed Al-Burayk (Al Hilal), Saud Abdulhamid (Al Hilal)
Midfielders: Salman Al-Faraj (Al Hilal), Riyadh Sharahili (Abha), Ali Al-Hassan (Al Nassr), Mohamed Kanno (Al Hilal), Abdulelah Al-Malki (Al Hilal), Sami Al-Najei (Al Nassr), Abdullah Otayf (Al Hilal), Nasser Al-Dawsari (Al Hilal), Abdulrahman Al-Obood (Al Ittihad), Salem Al-Dawsari (Al Hilal), Hattan Bahbhir (Al Shabab)
Forwards: Nawaf Al-Abed (Al Shabab), Haitham Asiri (Al Ahli), Saleh Al-Shehri (Al Hilal), Firas Al-Buraikan (Al Fateh FC)
Fahad Al-Muwallad was included in the initial list of the 26-man squad for the tournament in Qatar but was withdrawn after failing a doping test. In his place, Nawaf Al-Abed has been called up who is also a teammate of Fahad for the local club Al-Shabab. 14 members of the squad are from Al Hilal, the most representation from the club.
The strength of Saudi Arabia will be the familiar surroundings to play in the World Cup. The temperature and weather will be adjustable to them rather than most other nations plus the incredible support the falcons will have. Under coach Herve Renard, the team has developed a high-pressing room and also at times going direct. Both utilise to the fullest. There is also an element of surprise from this Saudi squad that can be an advantage to them in this tournament.
The group they are in contain Argentina, Poland and Mexico which is very hard to get past. Saudi Arabia have not won any game against the opposition they are going to face only drawn twice against Argentina and once against Mexico. Although, none of them came in major competitions. It will be a tougher occasion for the Falcons than four years ago.
Star Player: Salem Al-Dawsari
The local hero nicknamed 'The Tornado', Salem al-Dawsari is the player with the energy and goals akin to his tag name causing havoc when he does so. Scored in the 2018 World Cup against Egypt, Dawsari is a prominent scorer for his nation and his club, also turning up on big occasions. This makes him a vital player. His work on the left side is set to bring some fireworks and a quick burst of pace and trickery will be a handful for defenders to contain. Now 31-year old, Dawsari will like to repeat his performance from the 2018 World Cup to better Saudi Arabia's effort in this edition.
How will Saudi Arabia lineup at the 2022 World Cup?
Herve Renard has used a variety of formations considering the opposition the team is facing. He might deploy a five-man defence in the first game against Argentina maintaining a low block but 4-4-1-1 looks to be the shape in demand. Renard used that in the defeat to Croatia but they looked the better side with more midfield numbers, pressing and winning the second balls in direct plays. Saudi Arabia could also switch to a flexible 4-3-3 if needed as they did in the friendlies earlier this year.
Opponents and Fixtures
Argentina vs Saudi Arabia - 22 November 2022, Lusail Stadium (3:30 PM)
Poland vs Saudi Arabia - 26 November 2022, Education City (6:30 PM)
Saudi Arabia vs Mexico - 1 December 2022, Lusail Stadium (12:30 AM)
Saudi Arabia began their 2022 World Cup campaign with a big test against Argentina on 22 November where they have to think about limiting the damage. The aim will be to get maximum points out of the next two fixtures against Poland and Mexico which will be a huge task.
It is hard to see Herve Renard’s side making it out of the group stages and breaking the long-standing curse. However, they can produce some excellent pressing football in forcing the opposition to handle some nervy moments. Playing in familiar surroundings could give them an edge in certain situations although it won’t be enough for the kind of forces they are facing in this World Cup.