Saudi Arabia reaches World Cup finals with dramatic win over Japan

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ans of of Saudi Arabia cheer and chant before the start of their soccer match against Japan on Tuesday. (REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser)
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Striker Fahad Al-Muwallad celebrates after scoring a goal for Saudi Arabia in the Asian World Cup qualifying match against Japan in Jeddah on Tuesday. (AN photo)
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Nawaf Al Abed of Saudi Arabia fights for the ball with Hotaru Yamaguchi of Japan. (REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser)
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Saudi Arabia's Mohammed Alsahlawi (R) and Japan's Shuji Gen (L) and his teammate Maya Yushida (C) fight for the ball during the FIFA World Cup 2018 qualification football match between Saudi Arabia and Japan at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah on September 5, 2017. (AFP)
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A bit of action of the Saudi-Japan qualifier match on Tuesday at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on Tuesday.(AN photo by Mohammed Manei)
Updated 08 November 2017
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Saudi Arabia reaches World Cup finals with dramatic win over Japan

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 2006 with a 1-0 victory over Japan in a decisive Asian qualifying match on Tuesday at the King Abdulah Sports City Stadium on the outskirts of Jeddah.
Needing to win to qualify outright after Australia beat Thailand 2-1 earlier in Melbourne, the Green Falcons did just that before an announced full house crowd of 62,165 at the cavernous stadium.
Striker Fahad Al-Muwallad collected a pass from the right and booted in a goal to the top corner in the 63rd minute that had the home crowd erupting in jubilation.
Saudi Arabia finished the World Cup qualifiers on 19 points to advance outright to Russia 2018 as the second team from Group B with already-qualified Japan on 20 points from 10 matches.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, congratulated the Saudi national team for its win in a tweet he posted on his Twitter account.
“Congratulation to the Men of the Kingdom. Salman’s men’s qualification to 2018 World Cup. A team that deserves to represent all Arabs. Congratulation to Custodian of the Two holy Mosques and to the beloved Saudi people”.
Elsewhere, South Korea qualified from Group A alongside Iran with a goalless draw away to Uzbekistan.


Benevolence, not bluster: How ‘Brand Salah’ bucks the trend

Updated 20 min 11 sec ago
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Benevolence, not bluster: How ‘Brand Salah’ bucks the trend

  • Mohamed Salah lines up for Liverpool in the Champions League final against Real Madrid on Saturday
  • Mohamed Salah has been unveiled as DHL’s new brand ambassador for the MENA region

LONDON: On Saturday Mohamed Salah will line up for Liverpool in the Champions League final against Real Madrid.
He will do so not only with the every member of the Red army behind him, but also the entire Arab world.
That is testament to his stratospheric rise — over the past nine months the Egyptian ace has gone from being a very good player, but one deemed as needing to justify his $52 million transfer fee, to a global superstar and cultural phenomenon.
As with any sporting star, with the adulation and attention comes potential pitfalls and, invariably, a new lexicon. So it was not surprising to hear the 25-year-old speak of “his brand” when he was unveiled as DHL’s new brand ambassador for the MENA region on Wednesday. Stars becoming brands is almost cliche now and one that Salah has clearly taken on board — he now has even his own logo.
“We are proud of him. Over the past two years, no has done what he has done. He has proved himself as one of the best and we wanted to deal with no one else, just him,” CEO of DHL in the Middle East and North Africa, Nour Suliman, said. “He is competing on another level and is the star of the Arab world. No one in the Arab world has done what he is doing. We are very proud to have him.”
Those types of corporate events, where a big multinational signs a deal with the latest big, young thing, lend themselves to the odd dollop of hyperbole. But there is little doubting the impact Salah has had on the pitch for Liverpool and Egypt, and off it in becoming a true Arab icon. And his utterance of the word “brand” is where Salah as a walking cliche begins and ends.
Every year in Egypt ahead of Ramadan the best dates are named after the most popular person in the country — the man or woman revered by the nation at that moment. In the past, the staple food of the holy month has tended to be named after political leaders.
This year there was no competition: The most succulent date has been named after Salah. At the DHL press conference he was presented with a packet of dates emblazoned with his face and name.
It said much about the man that he both looked and confessed to being “embarrassed.”
This week the British Museum in London displayed Salah’s green football boots as part of its Modern Egypt exhibition. And in a documentary about the player broadcast in the UK, he was credited with increasing attendances at England’s oldest mosque in Liverpool and improving the image of Islam by Dr. Abdul Hamid, a trustee at the mosque.
So while the signing of big deals hints he is very much the modern-day footballing superstar, everything else off the pitch suggests something else.
Salah is on social media, but does not, like many sports stars, live on it; he knows he is a hero for many, but pays more than mere lip service to his position as a role model; and he embraces attention (of both opposition defenders and fans) rather than seemingly getting annoyed by it if things are not going his way.
“I am not heavy into social media, I am on it and aware of it, but I don’t follow it that closely. It does not influence me,” he said.
“I am aware young people look up to me and I feel great that they do and that I can influence a young footballer to play better or train harder, or do better; that that makes me proud.”
This season Salah has done what few footballers have done before, transcend the game, and he has done so in a way characterized by benevolence rather than bluster.
Against Real Madrid he can again illustrate just what a talent he is — and if he does lead Liverpool to their sixth European Cup triumph, you get the feeling he will not let the adulation go to his head.