Muath Faqeehi: Al Taawoun's young talent aiming for Asian Cup call-up with Saudi Arabia

On-loan Al Hilal full-back has already impressed national team manager Roberto Mancini

Muath Faqeehi of Al Taawoun. Credit: SPL
Powered by automated translation

Muath Faqeehi’s childhood dreams came true last month when he made his national team debut for Saudi Arabia.

Now the Al Taawoun left back, on loan from Al Hilal, hopes his performances in the Saudi Pro League since that win against Pakistan have earned a place in Roberti Mancini’s squad for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.

Faqeehi, 21, has shone brightly in the Taawoun success story this season. The young defender has played every single game except one – that he missed through suspension – as the team from Buraidah have soared to fourth spot in the table.

His defensive nous and penetrative runs were rewarded with a starting spot in last month’s Fifa World Cup 2026 qualifier – Mancini’s first with the team – which Saudi Arabia won 4-0.

And with Mancini’s squad announcement imminent, nothing would give Faqeehi greater pride than seeing his name on the list for the plane to Qatar.

The rescheduled tournament takes place from January 12-February 10.

“It was a very good feeling to play for the national team, a dream come true,” Faqeehi said. “It was a very good experience and I hope to repeat it.

“I don’t know who will be called up for the Asian Cup, but for sure I hope to be one of the players called up to represent my country, Saudi Arabia. It would mean so much to me. I will continue to do everything to try to ensure that I am part of the squad.”

Part of the thrill of being with the national team was working with Mancini, whose side open their Asian Cup campaign Oman on January 16, then face Kyrgyzstan five days later, before wrapping up Group F against Thailand on January 25.

“He’s a really great coach and it’s very good for all the players with the national team that he is here,” Faqeehi said of Mancini, who guided Italy to Euro 2020 success, as well leading Manchester City to a first Premier League title and Inter Milan to three Scudettos in Serie A. “As players we are trying to get the benefits of working with him and learn from him.”

While Faqeehi will always be immensely thankful to Mancini for giving him his international debut, it’s another coach who he believes deserves the most praise: Pericles Chamusca.

The Brazilian recently described having Faqeehi and Taawoun defensive teammate Awn Al Saluli chosen to play for Saudi Arabia as “an honour” for the club.

However, all the honours, Faqeehi says, should be lauded on the manager who has inspired both him and Taawoun to perform so impressively.

“Coach Chamusca is a great coach and I want to say that this feeling I will keep with me for ever,” insists the left back, who played a handful of times for Al Hilal last season before joining Taawoun on a year-long loan in summer.

“He trusted me, and I hope to fulfil this trust and confidence in me and repay his favour.”

While Faqeehi fervently hopes to be named in Mancini’s upcoming squad, having a familiar face from Taawoun on national duty once again would also result in a large smile.

“It was very positive to play with my teammate Awn Al Saluli with the national team after playing with him for Taawoun,” Faqeehi said.

“This helped in the understanding between us when playing for the national team,” he added, providing an example of when he needed to come in from the left to provide cover in central areas. “God willing, this will continue.”

What is still to be decided is where Faqeehi will be playing his football next season after the conclusion of his temporary trade from Hilal to Taawoun.

“That’s an unanticipated moment,” Faqeehi said. “I don’t know what will happen, and no one can know the future. The most important thing is to keep playing well for Al Taawoun and hopefully Saudi Arabia. Everything else is with my agent.”

Wherever Faqeehi is playing, he will only ever have positives to say about Taawoun, a club where he has thrived, gained international recognition, and tested himself against world-class forwards like Cristiano Ronaldo, Riyad Mahrez and Karim Benzema.

“At Al Taawoun, I’ve played against some very great players – and as a younger player you benefit from playing against them. They add to our league.

“Al Taawoun is a very great team and is giving an opportunity for younger players like me who come here and play well and perform. Just look at the opportunities Al Taawoun has given me with Saudi Arabia.”

Updated: December 23, 2023, 1:20 PM