The Nations of the 21st World Cup – Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia National Team

Saudi Arabia NT

The Green Falcons of Saudi Arabia

Every four years, national pride and footie artistry reach peak levels in a global dance of no small magnitude, the World Cup is here again. This summer, all eyes will be focused on Russia as the time to crown a champion draws ever near. With the sport’s best and brightest from 32 lucky nations on display, it’s time to take a look at what each squad brings to the table. We will dive deep beyond the usual team sheets, we’ll scratch beyond the player names, and get you ready to be the smartest on the couch/bar stool for Russia 2018.

Saudi Arabia

Qualifying Record (W-D-L) 6-1-3
Current FIFA World Ranking (April 2018) – 70th
World Cup 2014 Finish – DNQ
Russia 2018 Group A (Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay)
Formation – 4-2-3-1
Strengths – Pressing style, quick passing attack
Weaknesses – Cohesion & positioning, Little time with new coach (transition issues)
Major Threats – Mohammad Al-Sahlawi, Fahad Al-Muwallad, Nawaf Al-Abed

Bert Van Marwijk coached the Green Falcons to their 1st World Cup since 2006 before getting let go for ‘reasons’, he’ll now coach Australia in Russia ‘18. Marwijk was replaced by Edgardo Bauza who lasted two months (and four friendlies) before receiving the boot. In November 2017, in came Juan Antonio Pizzi, the man who won Chile the last Copa but also the guy who failed to qualify that golden generation for this World Cup. The managerial turmoil is unfortunate because many view group A as the easiest group in the tournament but even this group will likely prove too tough for the Saudis now.
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Realistic Federation Goal for RUSSIA 2018:

SAFF know this is an easy group and despite firing managers more times than ideal, they will feel like they have given the team enough resources to match their best ever World Cup showing by getting to the 2nd round.


DEFENSE:

Coach Juan Antonio Pizzi has shown an affinity for a 4 man backline. He typically sets up a base 4-2-3-1 that flexes into a 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1 depending on the situation and opponent. He likes a free passing system where the team builds from the back and center backs play the ball out calmly from the back even under pressure. He likes his full backs bombing forward to outnumber the opponent, the problem with all this is he has not had a lot of time with the team, and the personnel is not as good as he had it at Chile. Some Chileans would argue that he ruined what was a great team with his tactics anyway but that is a story for another place and time.

With the Green Falcons, Coach Pizzi can count on a center back duo that has experience and strength to it. Osama Hawsawi is the captain of the side and at 34yrs old with over 130 national caps, he’ll finally be headed to his first Mundial. He’s a unit in the middle of the Saudi defense and as their pillar of strength, he provides guidance to the whole team mentally. Physically, his strength is great when close up to immobile center forwards but he has lost whatever pace he had to cope with quick moving, deceptive strikers so the odd mistake will leave him exposed. His partner is only two years younger, Omar Hawsawi has less than 50 caps and isn’t much faster than Osama, and not as strong. They pair well together but against teams who can move the ball quickly and have pace of movement and thought, they’ll have their work cut out.

The left back will be Yasser Al-Shahrani of Al-Hilal. He is an attack-first modern wingback who can exploit a team that doesn’t cover it’s right flank adequately. He’s smart and can (and has) play on both wings. He can also be prone to lapses in concentration and make silly errors that good opponents will punish.
At rightback, there’s some uncertainty over whether Mohammed Al-Breik will get the nod or Saeed Al Mowalad. Both can get ‘done’ by competent left wing play so that isn’t necessarily a strength for the Falcons. Coach Pizzi will look to counter their defensive weakness by pushing them further up the line in the hopes that their offensive threat pins back the opposing wingers and fullbacks though of course there’s the significant risk of smart teams putting the ball into the space behind the rightback and banking on the fact that the central midfielders won’t be able to cover the lapse.

Saudi Arabia’s goalie is likely to be Yasser Al Mosailem. He’s a good goalie who should provide a decent last line of defense for the side. He’ll need to be at his finest because the Saudis can be guilty of naive and simply poor defending too frequently. If the defense matched the level of the attack, this team would be a sure bet for one of the two spots from an easy group.

MIDFIELD

Whether it’s a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-1-4-1 or some other variation, the midfield pivot will be Abdullah Otayf. He’s a good ball playing holding midfielder who can start attacks from deep when he gets going. Salman Al-Faraj may play alongside him as the double pivot or in front of him. Al-Faraj is better when he plays further forward and his ball holding skills become a big factor then. These two central midfielders are the hallmark of what the Saudis try to do under Pizzi, which is pass the ball around quickly and play attractive football. Both men tend to struggle when the opponent presses them or shuts down passing lanes so it will be interesting to see how much they turn the ball over.

In front of them, it gets really interesting as this is where the Saudi Arabian team can get explosive. Yahya Al-Shehri will nominally occupy the right attacking midfield but he can float around and play behind the lone center forward. Al Shehri is a filthy talent, great on the ball, possesses good pace, he is a very good finisher as well. On the other flank will likely be Salem Al-Dawsari with Nawaf Al-Abed playing in the hole behind the striker. The attacking midfield is a big part of why this side may have the best attack from Asia, they’re excellent on the ball and their passing (even under a new coach) will trouble some teams. Nawaf is going to be the key man to putting this all together and if Saudi Arabia are to stand a glimmer of a chance to progress, it’ll be because he has had a tournament for the ages. (Owairan anyone?)

Even the guys who might not start, like Fahad Al-Muwallad are of the same pacey, tricky, ball playing ilk.

Nawaf Al Abed

Soccer Football – 2018 World Cup qualifications – Saudi Arabia v Japan – Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – September 5, 2017 – Nawaf Al Abed of Saudi Arabia celebrates victory against Japan. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

STRIKERS

Coach Pizzi likes his teams to start pressing from upfront and that’s the first job for Mohammed Al-Sahlawi when the ball isn’t in Saudi possession. The midfield behind Al-Sahlawi will look to join him in pressing as a unit and compressing the opponent. The danger with Coach Pizzi’s newness coaching this team is that the coordinated pressing he’d like is something that may be exposed as weak because it needs time to be perfected.

Saudi Arabia scored a lot in Asian qualifying and they will look to replicate that at this World Cup, the attack is potent but we’ll find out how strong their bite is at a larger level soon enough. Saudi Arabia love to entertain and dribble and play attacking football and they should be fun to watch.

GAME by GAME (v Russia, v Uruguay, v Egypt)

*Keys to Russia game: Can the Falcons quiet Fyodor Smolov? Who will win the midfield battle? Can Saudi Arabia put away their chances when they come?
Prediction: On neutral ground, on any other ol’ day, this game would likely be a tie or even a Saudi win but this one that counts won’t be on neutral ground, and the first game of the tournament isn’t any other ol’ day. The Russians will probably win a high scoring close game.

*Keys to Uruguay game: Can anyone track the movement of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani? Can the Saudi Arabians escape the stifling Uruguayan midfield? How can the Saudis deal with Uruguay’s superb central defense?
Prediction: This is not a good matchup for the Green Falcons, the Uruguayans have antidotes to the Saudis strengths in every level of the game, in attack, midfield, and defense. Uruguay should win this.

*Keys to Egypt game: Just like in the Uruguay game, who will track the movement of Mo Salah if he’s back? Can Saudi Arabia make possession count in this game? Can the passing lanes to Salah get shut down? Will the Saudis score enough goals?
Prediction: This is probably going to be Saudi Arabia’s cup final at this tournament. They match up well with Egypt and if they can keep Salah quiet, they should minimize the damage Egypt can do BUT they’re not likely to be able to shut down the Egypt midfield from getting passes to him and so this will likely end in a high scoring draw and if Salah is out, a Saudi victory.

Pizzi

Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi

Here’s the possible Saudi Roster for Russia 2018
GOALKEEPERS (3): Yasser Al Mosailem, Abdullah Al Mayouf, Assaf Al Qarni

DEFENDERS (8): Osama Hawsawi, Omar Hawsawi, Yasser Al Shahrani, Saeed Al Mowalad, Mohammed Al Breik, Mansoor Al Harbi, Mohammed Jahfali, Motaz Hawsawi

MIDFIELDERS (10): Yahya Al Shehri, Nawaf Al Abed, Fahad Al Muwallad, Salman Al Faraj, Salem Al Dawsari, Abdullah Otayf, Mohammed Kanno, Taisir Al Jassim, Abdulmalik Al Khaibri, Housain Al Mogahwi

FORWARDS (2): Mohammed Al Sahlawi, Muhannad Assiri

Piece by Tise Okuo, frequent Center Circle writer, a recovering fan of Arsenal FC and lover of football.

 

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About the author: Tise Okuo

 

Soccer nut. Arsenal fan, used to enduring hard times. Admirer of the purity of tiki-taka, total football, catenaccio, and any other system bold enough to be itself. In my spare time, I am a professional thinker. Engage with me on Google+.

 

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