What needs to happen for the Green Falcons to soar into the World Cup?

Bert Van Marwijk issues last-minute instructions to his Saudi Arabia players. (SPA)
Updated 08 November 2017

What needs to happen for the Green Falcons to soar into the World Cup?

Australia’s very nervy, but expected, 2-1 victory over Thailand in Melbourne now means Saudi Arabia know what they have to do when they face Japan to ensure qualification to next year’s World Cup in Russia.
The Socceroos bombarded Thailand’s goal, but it took a Mathew Leckie’s strike in the 86th minute to guarantee the Aussies all three points. Tomi Jurinc opened the scoring in the 69th minute before Pokklaw A-Nan shocked the hosts with 18 minutes left.
That has lifted Australia into second place in Group B, behind the already-qualified Japan, and has set the scene for the Green Falcons’ biggest match in over a decade.
Here’s Arab News’ lowdown on tonight’s crunch clash in Jeddah.

IF Saudi Arabia beat Japan, thanks to their superior goal difference, they are definitely through
IF Saudi Arabia draw Australia qualify automatically and the Green Falcons go into the fourth round where they’ll face the third-placed team — one of South Korea, Syria and Uzbekistan — from Group A.
IF Saudi Arabia lose then they could miss out altogether if they lose by five or more goals and the United Arab Emirates beat Iraq by four or more goals.

1. Japan, although clearly by some distance the best team in Asia, are already through, and while there will be talk about putting in a good performance and ending qualification on a high, they’re only human and it will be only natural for them to take their foot off the gas.
2. The Samurai Blue only played five days ago, have had an 18-hour journey to Jeddah, will be jet lagged and not used to the noticeably hotter climate of the Kingdom at the moment. The hosts have had longer to prepare and will be used to the conditions.
3. Thanks to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, fans have free entry to the match. In these sort of clashes never underestimate how vital 60,000 passionate supporters could be if the match was still on a knife-edge with 15 minutes to go.

1. While Japan are already through and the coach, Vahid Halilhodzic, could rest some key players (Makoto Hasebe, the captain, will be missing, as will Shinji Kagawa) the fringe players will be desperate to impress the boss knowing that places to Russia are up for grabs.
2. A 2-1 defeat by the UAE last time out hinted at nerves with the finish line in sight. For a lot of these players, this is as good a chance of getting to a World Cup as they will get. Can they handle the pressure? The 60,000 fans will be desperate to see their country qualify for the first time since 2006 and can act as a 12th man. But if things don’t go the hosts’ way then nerves are all too easily transmitted from the stands to the pitch.
3. Japan have topped the group for a reason, they are far and away the best side in Asia and haven’t been beaten in qualification for over a year, a shock 2-1 home defeat by the UAE last September being the last time they tasted defeat. Whatever side they play, beating it will be no mean feat for the Green Falcons.

What now for Saudi Arabia’s big four teams?

Updated 19 April 2018

What now for Saudi Arabia’s big four teams?

  • Al-Hilal won their 15th top-flight title this season.
  • Big summer for Saudi Arabia football with the Green Falcons at the World Cup.

Now the Saudi Professional League season is over for another year Arab News can look back at their title tilts and what the big four clubs have to do over the coming months ahead of the next season.



Finished: Champions

Coaching situation: Ramon Diaz was in charge for much of the season, but was fired in February after setbacks in the Champions League.
Assistant Juan Brown did Okay in the final stretch, but a top-class coach could get more out of this team.

Squad priorities: A reliable goalscorer to support Omar Khribin and with veteran defender Osama Hawsawi leaving for pastures new, a replacement center-back with leadership qualities. Welcoming back the major stars — Carlos Eduardo, Khribin, Nawaf Al-Abed and Salem Al -Dawsari — will be a major boost.

Aim next season: Win the AFC Champions League



Finished: Second

Coaching situation: Sergiy Rebrov is out of contract at the end of June. His future is likely to depend on how the team fares against Al-Sadd in the second round of the AFC Champions League in May.

Squad priorities: There is not much wrong. The Jeddah giants were the highest scorers in the league last season and had the second best defense. Keeping star midfielder Leonardo fit will help as will a little cover in the center of defense. Star striker Omar Al-Somah fell out with the coach in a public way in the penultimate game of the season. It may be that one of them has to go. The Syrian has been player of the year for three years and has a longer contract than Rebrov.

Aim next season: Win the league. Maintain good performances in Asia.


Finished: Third

Coaching situation: Krunoslav Jurcic arrived in January and the former Croatian national team boss produced an upswing in results. May just be a temporary appointment and it needs to be sorted quickly.

Squad priorities: Looks good with the Saudi Arabia national team keeper, a strong center-back pairing of Omar Hawsawi and Bruno Uvini and the full-back position seemingly sorted with the January signing of Saad Suhail. They probably need a defensive midfielder and have to keep Junior Kabananga. The DR Congo striker has shown enough in his few weeks at the club to suggest that he could be a real star next season, especially with Leonardo pulling the strings behind him.

Aim next season: A genuine title challenge and getting through the play-offs into  the 2019 AFC Champions League.



Finished: Ninth

Coaching situation: A bottom half finish is unacceptable for a team with Al-Itithad’s stature and history. Chilean coach Jose Luis Sierra may find that winning domestic cups is no substitute for challenging for the title.

Squad priorities: There is too much reliance on players such as Carlos Villanueva, a creative spark in the team, and Fahad Al-Ansari, the midfield engine, who are the wrong side of 30. The possible return of star winger Fahad Al-Muwallad will help, but an introduction of energy is needed.

Aim next season: Top three and, if the team wins the King’s Cup, a good showing in the 2019 AFC Champions League.