Saudi hero Salem Al Dawsari earns place among World Cup giants in Kerala village

A towering cut-out of the player joins those of Ronaldo, Neymar and Messi after he secured his country a famous 2-1 win over Argentina

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Saudi Arabia's new footballing hero Salem Al Dawsari has made it big, after being added to a collection of huge cardboard cut-outs of World Cup stars on display in an Indian village.

Al Dawsari won global acclaim after scoring the decisive goal as the Green Falcons soared to a stunning victory over Argentina on Tuesday in perhaps the greatest upset in the tournament's history.

Now his exploits are being celebrated in Pullavoor village in southern Kerala, where one of the world's most unlikely football fan zones has sprung up.

Fans set up a nine-metre tall likeness of the Saudi player in tribute to his starring role in a win that captivated World Cup watchers the world over.

The football-crazy fans of Pullavoor village have been making headlines of their own by setting up towering cut-outs of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo, the largest of which is 15 metres, near the riverbank.

The new addition to the pantheon of superstars has Al Dawsari standing tall in his green kit with the tag "Saudi Fans" and looking over the village ground.

Saudi Arabia's success no surprise in village

Subair Pandiyala, a keen follower of the Saudi striker, said he had planned the fan homage weeks before the Qatar World Cup started.

“I have seen him play and I know how good he is,” said the 48-year-old, who worked in Riyadh for more than two decades.

“After the match, so many people support Saudi Arabia. But before the match, everyone thought Argentina would win.

“No one thought Saudi Arabia was good and experienced, but I knew.

“This is the first time for such a victory for the Asian and Arab world so it needs a big celebration.”

The Saudi victory lit up the World Cup and was marked with a national holiday in the kingdom.

Working in Saudi Arabia as an electrical technician, Mr Pandiyala often watched the team play in his free time.

He has fond memories of his life in Riyadh, which came to an abrupt end when the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

Two years ago, he was in India for a holiday and could not return to work in the kingdom when airports shut, countries closed borders and his visa was cancelled.

Mr Pandiyala has since opened a small business in his village selling electric scooters.

'Home teams' in Qatar

Kerala state is home to the largest number of Indian migrants who traditionally look for opportunities in the Gulf.

For the football fanatics, every World Cup is a cause for celebration, with homes painted in “home team” colours.

Fans feel a closer connection to the Qatar games because many have family and friends who work in the country.

“I support Saudi because for more than 25 years I lived there,” Mr Pandiyala said.

“Saudi helped my family, my children are in good schools. My progress, good opportunity, is from Saudi.

“In our village, so many people work in the UAE, Saudi, Qatar, so we like and remember the GCC countries.”

The villagers have set up a big screen for public viewing of all the World Cup games.

Hundreds of fans gather daily under the glow of the enormous cut-outs lit up with white bulbs.

Al Dawsari’s portrait is probably the final cut-out to complete the quartet in Pullavoor village.

“There are many more Brazil, Portugal and Argentina fans here,” said Muhammad Ali, a Brazil fan who put up the Neymar cut-out.

“But people who worked in Saudi are coming to the village now with their family to see this new cut-out and take photos.

“These big cut-outs make us happy. We feel like we are watching the games with them.”

Updated: November 25, 2022, 2:50 PM