Nerves and excitement grip Saudi Arabia fans before World Cup 2022 game against Argentina

Kingdom takes on world number three ranked team at 2pm today

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Saudi Arabia fans pouring into Doha were in an upbeat mood ahead of their opening World Cup match against one of the tournament favourites - Argentina.

Saudi Arabia have been drawn in Group C with two-time World Cup winners Argentina, alongside Poland and Mexico.

While most would expect Argentina, with one of the greatest players of all time in Lionel Messi in their line-up, to take the three points, Saudi fans are hopeful of getting a draw, or even a shock win.

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To play against Messi in his last World Cup is a big thing for Saudi Arabia... but it will be difficult to escape from this group
Mohammed Algabeyah, Saudi fan from Jeddah

"We have to play well," said Wael Dowairi, 35, an engineer from Saudi Arabia, which are 51st in Fifa's world football rankings.

"Even though we know Argentina is a tough team, we hope we can get something from the game."

He predicted a 0-0 or 1-1 scoreline but his friend, Abdul Hamam, 37, was more confident and suggested a 2-1 win for Saudi Arabia.

They said Al-Hilal's Salman Al-Faraj and Al-Ittihad's Abdulrahman Al-Aboud would be their most important players.

Abdul Hamam and Wael Dowairi are hoping for a Saudi Arabia win. Sarah Forster / The National

Fifa has ranked Argentina at number three in the world, while Saudi Arabia currently lie in 51st.

Last month, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmanmet the Saudi national team and told them not to feel stressed and to simply “enjoy” the tournament, adding that the Saudi team find themselves in a difficult World Cup group.

While the Green Falcons overcame AFC heavyweights Japan and Australia in the qualification campaign, they have been goal-shy in recent matches.

They lost friendlies against Colombia and Venezuela by the same 1-0 scoreline and ended up goalless in matches against Ecuador and USA.

Thawab Al Sulemai said it was important that the team believe in themselves. Sarah Forster / The National

Thawab Al Sulemai, 35, a petrochemical engineer, said it was important that they believe in themselves.

"They trust in themselves and they can do anything," he told The National.

"I have tickets for our next two games and if possible I will get another to see all matches in the group stage."

Dr Mohammed Algabeyah said playing against Messi in his last World Cup was a big thing for Saudi Arabia. Andy Scott / The National

Dr Mohammed Algabeyah, a family doctor in Jeddah, said the tough group would make it hard for his country to advance to the last 16, which would match their best performance in the competition from USA 1994 when they were eventually knocked out by Sweden.

“Of course it is a difficult match but we will try to play as good as we can," said Dr Algabeyah. "Argentina is one of the teams expected to win the World Cup.

"To play against Messi in his last World Cup is a big thing for Saudi Arabia.

"I wish my team good luck but it will be difficult to escape from this group.

"We can only hope but this is our sixth World Cup so we have more experience now for these kind of games. Salem Al Dawsari is our man, he can do it for us.”

Fans have travelled in their thousands across the border to Qatar.

More than 780 Saudi Arabia Airlines flights will transport fans to and from Doha.

In Jeddah, local schools and cafes and screening the match. Nationwide, government employees can leave work at midday.

"I took the afternoon off so I can go watch the game with my father, brother and my children. We love football and it's our first game so it's very special to all of us," says Mahmoud Alamri, a retailer in Jeddah.

Updated: November 22, 2022, 8:53 AM
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