• Ian Pulczynski

Socceroos Opposition Watch: Saudi Arabia

Undefeated in 2021 and with an experienced manager at the helm, Saudi Arabia will aim to break Australia's 13-year long undefeated home qualifying streak when the two sides meet tonight.

The Saudi Arabia national team lining up against Japan in a FIFA World Cup Qualifier. Source: FIFA

Saudi Arabia is the last Asian side to have a 100% win record in AFC third round qualifying.


They will be full of confidence when they face the Socceroos tonight at Western Sydney Stadium in Parramatta.


Both Australia and Saudi Arabia had disappointing campaigns at the 2018 World Cup.


They will be looking to book their tickets to Qatar 2022 early.


The Saudi Arabian national team, also known as the Green Falcons, arrives in Parramatta in red-hot form.


They have won every match in 2021, including victories over Uzbekistan, Japan, and China.


Despite the Saudi players only playing their club football in the Saudi Pro League, it doesn't undermine how big of a threat they pose to Australia.


PLAYERS


Salem Al-Dawsari is one of Saudi's most dangerous attacking players.


The Al-Hilal midfielder is notorious for his dribbling, creativity, and experience in big competitions, having played in the 2015 and 2019 Asian Cups, 2018 World Cup, and 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Salem Al-Dawsari is just one of Saudi Arabia's most dangerous players. Source: AFC

Another key player for the Saudis is Al-Hilal captain Salman Al-Faraj.


Like Al-Dawsari, Al-Faraj brings a vast amount of experience to the side and plays a vital role in the Saudi midfield.

Al-Ittihad right-winger Fahad Al-Muwallad is full of pace and could provide headaches for Australia's left side.

21-year old striker Firas Al-Buraikan is their super-sub option.

He has scored two goals off the bench for the Green Falcons in third round qualifying, including the match-winning goal against Japan.

Firas Al-Buraikan scored the match-winning goal for the Falcons against Japan in October 2021. Source: Saudi NT Twitter

A significant loss for the Falcons is the omission of Yasser Al-Shahrani.


The Al-Hilal defender is injured, and the Saudis could miss his attacking flair down the wing.


Most of Saudi Arabia's squad play their club football for Saudi giants Al-Hilal - a side Western Sydney Wanderers fans remember very well.


The Wanderers defeated them 1-0 in the 2014 Asian Champions League final.


MANAGER


Frenchman Hervé Renard manages the Saudi national team, a well-known figure in international football.


His managerial history includes coaching the Angola, Zambia, Ivory Coast, and Morocco national teams.


Renard won the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations with Zambia and again with the Ivory Coast in 2015.

Hervé Renard has been the manager of the Saudi Arabian national team since 2019. Source: Goal

"I am not afraid of any team before any match, but I always look forward to being part of such big matches," Renard said in his pre-match press conference.


"Everyone knows what to do, and we have absolute confidence in this squad of players."

Hervé Renard and Salem Al-Dawsari in their pre-match press conference. Souce: SAFF Saudi

Defence is Renard's specialty.


Excluding friendlies, Renard's time at Morocco saw him manage 27 games, with 35 goals scored and 17 conceded, including a 2-2 draw against Spain at the World Cup.


Under Renard, the Saudi national team have played 12 games and scored 30 goals, with just seven conceded (excluding friendlies).


BEHIND THE SCENES


Since Sunday, the Green Falcons have been training at Football NSW's Valentine Sportspark in Glenwood - approximately 15 kilometres from Parramatta.

Saudi Arabia have been training at Valentine Sportspark in Glenwood, NSW. Source: Saudi NT Twitter

Front Page Football also understands that the Saudi team has been staying at The Langham Hotel in Sydney's CBD since their arrival on Saturday night.


AUSTRALIA


Australia's record against the Gulf nation is strong, with eight games played and only one loss - back in 1997 in the FIFA Confederations Cup in Riyadh.

The last time the Socceroos hosted Saudi Arabia in Australia was in 2017. Australia won the match 3-2. Source: Socceroos

Australia hasn't lost a World Cup qualifying home match in over thirteen years.


It is a run stretching back to 2008 when they lost to China 1-0 in Sydney.


The Socceroos return to Australian soil for the first time since November 2019.


It is expected that fans will fill every seat at the 30,000-capacity Western Sydney Stadium.


"Our home crowd will bring a lot of energy onto the field," Australia manager Graham Arnold said.


"I know it might be small tactically, but the energy that the crowd will bring to our players will be a huge addition."


History shows that Australia is the favourite, but the Saudis will be looking to change the narrative.