Roberto Mancini ready for tough test as Saudi Arabia face Jordan in World Cup qualifier

Green Falcons started qualification campaign with comfortable win over Pakistan but are missing number of key players for next game

Saudi Arabia manager Roberto Mancini is looking to make it two World Cup qualifying wins on the trot when his team takes on Jordan. Getty
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Saudi Arabia have a golden chance to open an early lead at the top of Group G of the Asian Qualifiers to the 2026 Fifa World Cup when they take on Jordan on Tuesday in their second game of the group.

Roberto Mancini’s men can take inspiration from their U23 peers who defeated Jordan 2-1 in Al Khobar on Saturday in the international friendly tournament in preparation for the AFC U23 Asian Cup.

The Green Falcons had started the qualification campaign in style, putting four goals past Pakistan at Al Fateh Club Stadium on Thursday, while Jordan and Tajikistan played out a 1-1 draw in Dushanbe, allowing Saudi Arabia to top the group.

The victory, thanks to a brace from Saleh Al Shehri and added time goals from Abdulrahman Ghareeb and Abdullah Radif, sealed a first victory for Mancini since he took charge in September and marked the first win for Saudi Arabia since their 2-1 triumph over Argentina a year earlier in the World Cup Qatar 2022.

With eight Asian teams set to qualify for the expanded edition in US, Canada and Mexico, featuring 48 teams for the first time in World Cup history, there is a growing confidence among Saudi supporters that the three-time Asian champions can make it three consecutive qualifications to the world’s biggest footballing event.

Speaking in the pre-match press conference, manager Mancini refused to get carried away, insisting that all focus should be on winning what could be a tricky away encounter against a Jordan side which ranks 12th among the 47 AFC members in the most recent Fifa rankings.

“We are confident enough and looking forward to the game,” said the Italian. “In football, there are no guarantees, we have to show up, play the best way we can and only then we can think about qualifying. It’s still too early to think about that now, we are focused on playing Jordan.

“History shows this is a difficult fixture and we know Jordan will not be an easy opponent,” added Mancini, referring to Saudi Arabia’s less than perfect record against their northern neighbours.

In the last six clashes between the two teams, dating back to 2011, Saudi Arabia have only won once, while Jordan won three times, including in all three competitive matches between them.

With several withdrawals from the team’s camp over the past week due to injuries, including key players like Salem Al Dawsari, Yasser Al Shahrani and Abdulelah Al Amri, Mancini finds himself working with a limited squad, many of whom have not featured regularly for their clubs in the current Saudi Pro League season following the influx of star players from across the world last summer.

But Mancini is unfazed by the challenge. “We have many players who don’t play enough with their clubs and that is a problem that is not unique to us,” he said. “It is a problem in many countries across the world, and we just have to work around it.”

Thousands of Jordanian fans are expected to flock to the Amman International Stadium on Tuesday, with the Jordanian Football Association having announced free entry to the match in an effort to ramp up support for the national team.

Jordan manager Hussein Ammouta has vowed to deliver the three points to bring joy to the home crowd.

“We struggled against Tajikistan due to injuries and a poor pitch, but we still came away with a point,” said the Moroccan tactician.

“But against Saudi Arabia, we are determined to do better and show our fans what we are all about. We are fully focused and want to get a win to boost our chances of progressing to the next round.”

Updated: November 20, 2023, 4:47 PM