With Saudi Arabia getting set to kick off their Fifa World Cup campaign against Argentina on Tuesday, we look at five of the players key to Herve Renard’s side going into their Group C campaign.
Mohammed Al Owais
The goalkeeper has made the position his own of late, supplanting former mainstay Abdullah Al Mayouf. It has been a strange dynamic: Al Owais is usually No 2 to Al Mayouf at Al Hilal, but since he has been promoted with the national team, he has grabbed the opportunity, ahem, with both hands. Al Owais’ reliability, not to mention his sturdy reflexes, were on full display in the September friendly against Ecuador, when he was principally responsible for the 0-0 draw. Considering Saudi’s draw in Qatar – Argentina, Poland and Mexico – he will probably be needed again.
Yasser Al Shahrani
The full-back, hugely successful with reigning Asian champions Al Hilal, is one of the most experienced players in the team, with 66 appearances since his debut in 2012. Although he can play on both flanks, Al Shahrani is typically used on the left, where he is an energetic presence both in defence and attack. Tenacious and technically gifted, he was excellent – again – as Saudi qualified for the World Cup top of a group containing Japan and Australia. An important outlet in Renard’s system.
Salman Al Faraj
The Saudi captain is another long-time contributor to his national team since making his debut a decade ago. Having been integral to Hilal’s domestic dominance and recent Champions League success – he wears the armband for club, too – the left-footed midfielder is a vital cog in Renard’s side. His quality is unquestioned; a silky controller of possession, Al Faraj is the man who most of Saudi’s play flows through. The only worry, though: injuries have stymied his impact, with Al Faraj even a doubt heading into Qatar.
Salem Al Dawsari
The talented winger tends to be the ace in Renard’s pack, given his ability to unlock defences with a run and his eye for goal. The Hilal attacker is another of the team with 10 years’ international experience, with his influence growing still. Known for his pace and trickery, Al Dawsari brings an obvious goal threat: last season, he registered nine goals and five assists for Hilal. Versatile enough for either flank, or even up front as a “false nine”, Al Dawsari made his mark at the last World Cup, scoring the late winner against Egypt.
Firas Al Buraikan
The young striker, 22, should be key to a Saudi side who struggle for goals. Admittedly, Al Buraikan plies his trade domestically with mid-table Al Fateh, but there is no doubt a dearth of options up front for his national team. Since Renard handed him his debut in 2019, Al Buraikan has gone on to score 11 goals – more than any of his teammates. Still, though, he is not consistent enough, so his place in the starting line-up is not guaranteed. Often, Renard prefers to use him for impact from the bench.