MOHAMMED ALKANDARI WRITES – We celebrate the Saudi Arabian National team’s biggest upset in World Cup history in its extraordinary 2-1 triumph over Lionel Messi’s Argentina in their first match-day of the World Cup. The world’s bookies had Argentina as heavy favorites, and Saudi Arabia as all but certain losers – pinning the odds of at a gargantuan +2500. So what makes this Saudi Arabia squad so special and – even more to the pint – is it possible they can actually make it to the promised land?
After their dismal performance in the 2018 World Cup, losing 5-0 to Russia and unceremoniously exiting from the group stage, the Saudi Football Federation completely rebuilt the squad and kept only three 2018 players in the starting 2022 lineup. Even so, almost everyone expected Argentina to blow them out fairly easily. Why did that not happen?
The Green Falcons (Al-Suqour Al-Khodhur) side is composed of players exclusively from their local league. Prior to the cuurent World Cup, the SPL (Saudi Pro League) was put on hold for two months in order to prepare for the prestigious tournament. The players underwent a rigorous camp routine to build high team chemistry and deep understanding of their roles and tactics.
This could be seen through their defensive tactical masterclass in their first match. Salem AlDawseri, their AlHilal star-man, played a crucial role in the team by bringing explosiveness and stellar technique from the wing. Another man that can’t go unnoticed is their goalkeeper Mohammed AlOwais, who made gritty save after save. The team’s manager, Hervé Renard, originally from France, burnished the team into one of structural high-quality structure and steely discipline.
Absolutely nobody in the football world picked Saudi Arabia to merit ranking even as a potential dark horse in this tournament: The Green Falcons entered the tournament as the second-lowest ranked team. However, with the vociferous backing of fervent Saudi Arabian fans, they could be well on their way to shock the world and make a deep run into the tournament. With Poland vs Mexico just ending in a draw, the Falcons would only need to tie one of their remaining two games to make it through to the knockout stage. Being the first World Cup hosted in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council), could this Saudi Arabian side become the underdog story of the tournament? After all, the beautiful game always comes with surprises. Next challenge: Poland in a Group C match this Saturday November 26.