2023 Asian Cup: Saudi Arabia profile including fixtures, tournament record and key players

All you need to know about Roberto Mancini's side ahead of the 2023 tournament in Qatar

Expectations are high for Roberto Mancini's Saudi Arabia to go far at the 2023 Asian Cup following a memorable showing at the 2022 World Cup. AFP
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The rescheduled 2023 Asian Cup kicks off this week in Qatar. Three-time champions, Saudi Arabia begin their campaign on January 16 against Oman. Group F also contains Thailand and Kyrgyzstan.

Here we profile Roberto Mancini’s side as they look to snap almost three decades without the trophy.


Not making their tournament debut until the 1984 tournament in Singapore, Saudi Arabia announced their status as a major player on the continent by winning the title at the very first attempt. They successfully defended it four years later, then finished runner-up, winner, runner-up in the next three editions. In 10 appearances, Saudi Arabia have both a trio of wins and silver medals – although they last reached a final in 2007.

Best finish

Winner x 3: Saudi Arabia’s inaugural title was sealed when they defeated China 2-0 in the final at Singapore’s National Stadium thanks to goals from Shaye Al Nafisah and Majed Abdullah. Four years later, they needed penalties to get past South Korea in the showpiece in Doha – the match had finished 0-0 – while they prevailed via a shoot-out once more in 1996 to take the title against the UAE. Saudi Arabia triumphed 4-2 on spot-kicks at Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi after playing out a goalless draw with the hosts.

Last time out - 2019 Asian Cup

Heading into the UAE-based tournament off the back of a notable victory against Egypt at the 2018 World Cup, the Saudis won two of their three opening matches to progress from Group E in second place. Qatar, who defeated them 2-0, won the pool. However, Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side were eliminated in the very next round, losing 1-0 to Japan in Sharjah.

All-time Asian Cup top scorer

Yasser Al Qahtani – 6 goals (12th on tournament’s all-time list).

Memorable moment

Majed Abdullah’s solo effort: Having got to the final in their debut appearance in 1984, Saudi Arabia’s second goal against China is considered one for the ages. With his team already 1-0 up, Abdullah picked up the ball just inside the opposition half, slipped past two defenders, feinted to deceive the goalkeeper and placed home – all on a pitch that resembled a quagmire. Saudi Arabia secured the trophy, and a period of Asian Cup prosperity began.

2023 group fixtures

January 16 – Saudi Arabia v Oman

January 21 – Saudi Arabia v Kyrgyzstan

January 25 – Saudi Arabia v Thailand


Roberto Mancini – Appointed in August after five years with his native Italy, the former Manchester City manager endured an indifferent start by losing his first four friendlies. Yet twin wins to open 2026 World Cup qualifying steadied the ship, while Saudi Arabia also defeat Lebanon last week in an Asian Cup warm-up match. Mancini, of course, guided City to their first Premier League title, in 2012, won three Serie A crowns with Inter Milan before that, and masterminded Italy’s 2020 European Championship glory.

Star man

Salem Al Dawsari – The Al Hilal forward, 32, has long built a reputation as one of the standout performers on the continent, and goes into the tournament as the reigning Asian Player of the Year. Much of Saudi Arabia’s attacking prowess relies on the hugely talented wideman, who mixes skill with a regular eye for the spectacular goal.

Others to watch

Saud Abdulhamid – The Al Hilal full-back has developed into one of the stars for both club and country, with his marauding runs along the right flank a potent weapon for his sides.

Mohammed Kanno – The Al Hilal midfielder is a dynamic presence at the heart of the team, with the ability to break up play and set the tempo. Can be a goal threat also.

Saleh Al Shehri – The Al Hilal striker has had a difficult season domestically with game time hard to come by following his club’s massive summer spend. But repaid Mancini’s faith in the November qualifiers with four goals.

Breakout star

Firas Al Buraikan – The emerging striker starred in last season’s Saudi Pro League, firing a career-best 17 goals for the unheralded Al Fateh. The haul earned a big-money move to Al Ahli in September, with Al Buraikan finding the net 11 times in 17 league matches this season. Not guaranteed to start for Mancini, but his winner in the January 4 friendly against Lebanon could see him push for a place in the first XI.

Talking point

Can Mancini deliver for Saudi Arabia’s expectant support and end their long wait for the trophy?

Five months is hardly enough time for any manager to have maximum impact on his team, but Saudi Arabia still go into the 24-team tournament among the favourites. Performances at the 2022 World Cup, albeit achieved with Herve Renard in charge, have raised expectations that the team can finally land the trophy – and thus snap a 27-year wait. Mancini, though, is still getting to know his team, while his decision to omit the likes of Salman Al Faraj, Yasser Al Shahrani and Abdulelah Al Amri surprised somewhat. The pressure to deliver a strong showing, and perhaps ultimately the title, is on.


Goalkeepers: Nawaf Al Aqidi, Raghed Najjar, and Ahmed Al Kassar

Defenders: Hassan Kadish, Aoun Al Saluli, Ali Al-Bulaihi, Ali Lagami, Hassan Al-Tambakti, Saud Abdul Hamid, Fawaz Al Saqour, and Abdullah Al Khaybari

Midfielders: AbdulIlah Al Maliki, Mukhtar Ali, Faisal Al Ghamdi, Eid Al Mawlid, Salem Al Dawsari, Abbas Al Hassan, Nasser Al Dosari, Muhammad Kanno, and Sami Al Naji

Forwards: Fahd Al Mawlid, Ayman Yahya, Abdul Rahman Gharib, Firas Al Braikan, Abdullah Radif, Saleh Al Shehri

Updated: January 09, 2024, 2:42 AM