Saudi Arabia v UAE: 2018 World Cup qualifier — Scouting report and past five meetings

Reporting from Jeddah ahead of Tuesday's 2018 World Cup qualifier, John McAuley provides his scouting report on Saudi Arabia.

The last encounter between the UAE and Saudi Arabia was in March in the second round of 2018 World Cup qualifying. The match ended 1-1, with both sides already assured places in the third qualifying round. Ali Haider / EPA
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The UAE take on Saudi Arabia on Tuesday evening (kick-off 9.45pm UAE time) in what could prove a decisive match in their hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. Reporting from Jeddah, John McAuley provides his scouting report on the Saudi Arabia team and looks at how the past five meetings went between the two sides.


Once West Asia’s great powerhouse, Saudi Arabia qualified for four successive World Cup tournaments between 1994 and 2006. However, they have not been back since. Seeking to put that right in their bid to reach Russia 2018, they began Group B with successive victories against Thailand (1-0) and Iraq (2-1) before holding Asian champions Australia last week to a 2-2 draw at home. They sit second, level on points with leaders Australia. To get to this stage, Saudi topped their second-round group, finishing one place ahead of the UAE.

Star player — Nawaf Al Abed

The Al Hilal attacking midfielder has been his country’s main man in this stage, scoring three times — all from the penalty spot. Diminutive but decisive, Al Abed can play out wide or as a second striker, with his influence growing steadily under manager Bert van Marwijk. Scored against the UAE in the 2014 Gulf Cup semi-final. A genuine threat.

• Omar Abdulrahman: The UAE's star man has to take charge in Jeddah

Key men

• Taisir Al Jassim — The vastly experienced midfielder, with more than 100 international appearances, plays a pivotal role in the centre of the park. Utilises the ball well, has proper game-intelligence.

• Nasser Al Shamrani — Saudi's pantomime villain, the striker marked his return to the squad with the equaliser against Australia. Set for a starting role, he has tormented the UAE in the past.

Manager — Bert van Marwijk

The Dutchman is famed for guiding the Netherlands to the 2010 World Cup final, where they were defeated 1-0 by Spain. Since taking charge of Saudi in August last year, Van Marwijk has attempted to instil a greater work ethic and level of discipline, which although improved, has been slow to materialise. There have, though, been signs of progress.

Form (last six matches) — DWWWD

Past five meetings v UAE

UAE 1-1 Saudi Arabia (29/03/16)

With their progression to the third and final qualification stage for the 2018 World Cup already sealed earlier that day, the UAE took on the group winners in Abu Dhabi. The hosts went 1-0 down on 24 minutes to a Taisir Al Jassem goal, however Omar Abdulrahman equalised shortly after half-time to light up a packed Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.

• Five lessons: What the UAE must learn from Thailand victory to prevail in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia 2-1 UAE (08/10/15)

The top two sides in the second round’s Group A clashed in Jeddah. Ahmed Khalil gave the UAE the lead with a thunderous free-kick on 18 minutes, but the Saudis drew level just before half-time through Mohammed Al Sahlawi. The striker completed the turnaround in the last minute, scoring a penalty after Omar Abdulrahman’s foul on Nawaf Al Abed.

Saudi Arabia 3-2 UAE (23/11/14)

A frantic Gulf Cup semi-final sparked into life when hosts Saudi Arabia raced to a two-goal lead courtesy of quick-fire goals from Nasser Al Shamrani and Nawaf Al Abed. However, the defending champions dragged themselves back through a second-half double from Ahmed Khalil, before Salem Al Dawsari won it for their rivals with four minutes remaining.

UAE 0-1 Saudi Arabia (02/12/10)

The two sides met in the Gulf Cup semi-final in Yemen, with the UAE eager to celebrate their National Day by booking a place in the showpiece. It was not to be, as their hopes of a second final in three tournaments were dashed by Ahmed Abbas’ goal in the 55th minute. The Saudis were denied the trophy by Kuwait.

Saudi Arabia 3-2 UAE (01/04/09)

With their 2010 World Cup dream hanging by a thread, the UAE lost a must-win match in Riyadh. Mohammed Al Shehhi and Ismail Matar scored late in the first-half to cancel out Abdoh Otaif’s early penalty, but the visitors succumbed late on, conceding via Fares Juma’s own goal and Naif Hazazi’s 85th-minute strike. The UAE finished bottom of the group.

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