To prepare you for the tournament, The18 has launched team-by-team previews for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Here’s the Saudi Arabia World Cup preview, who’ll play in Group C against Argentina, Mexico and Poland.
Saudi Arabia World Cup Preview 2022
World Cup Appearances: 6th
Best Finish: Round of 16 (1994)
How they got here: Saudi Arabia finish top of Group B, above Japan and Australia, in AFC qualifying.
Coach: Hervé Renard (French)
Strongest XI: (4-2-3-1) Mohammed Al-Owais; Yasser Al-Shahrani, Ali Al-Boleahi, Abdulelah Ali Awadh Al-Amri, Sultan Al-Ghannam; Nasser Al-Dawsari, Mohamed Kanno; Salem Al-Dawsari, Salman Al-Faraj, Fahad Al-Muwallad; Saleh Al-Shehri
Injuries: Abdulelah Al-Malki (cruciate ligament)
What’s to like: Saudi Arabia finished top of a difficult qualifying group that included World Cup regulars Japan and Australia. There was also the underdog, Oman, that caused plenty of trouble in Group B, finishing one point behind Australia.
Saudi Arabia only lost one game, which came on the road in Japan, but remained unbeaten elsewhere. Despite a hefty number of injuries, the so-called “B-team” played a near-full strength U.S. side during a September friendly and drew 0-0.
The squad should have some of the best chemistry at the World Cup on paper. The entire team plays in the Saudi Pro League with basically all of them playing for one of three teams (Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr or Al-Shabab).
What’s not to like: While it’s great the players all play in the same league… the league isn’t great. The Saudi Pro League has four-time AFC Champions League winner Al-Hilal, but it’s a vast drop off from the top European flights.
The FIFA Coca-Cola rankings are often taken with a grain of salt, but for what it’s worth Saudi Arabia is ranked 51st in the world. This is the second-lowest ranked team in the World Cup and only ahead of Ghana. This means that Saudi Arabia is the worst of the six Asian teams in the tournament.
This team is also beat up. In the final September window for friendlies Saudi Arabia was missing three key starters: Muhammad Al-Owais (ankle), Yasser Al-Shahrani (thigh), Salman Al-Faraj (calf). These injuries were in addition to Abdulelah Al-Malki, who has been out since February with an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
There’s plenty of things not to like about this Saudi Arabia team. Lionel Messi should have a field day.
X-Factor: Salem Al-Dawsari can cause trouble on the left wing. In World Cup qualifying he scored in six straight games for Saudi Arabia. The 31-year-old is one of the most experienced players on the roster with 66 caps.
Best Hair: Yasser Al-Shahrani
Most likely to fuck it all up: The goalkeeper, Mohammed Al-Owais, will feel like he’s in a shooting gallery. He’ll be facing shots from Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski and Chucky Lozano. Eventually he’ll fuck up just based on the pure number of shots he'll have to face this World Cup.
What will make this a good World Cup: Getting more than one point.
Bonus prediction: Saudi Arabia finishes with the worst goal difference in the tournament.