Only five players from Edgardo Bauza’s last squad before his sacking retained their spot in the new-look squad: Left-back Abdulrahman Al-Obaid, midfielders Nouh Al-Mousa and Salman Al-Moasher, in addition to strikers Mukhtar Fallatah and Hazza Al-Hazza.
The squad only has 73 caps between them, and 33 of those belong to Ahmed Al-Fraidi. Only two players over the age of 30 have been called up and only two players in the squad have scored for their country. As many as 14 players could make their national-team debut in the tournament.
“You will see a different team in Kuwait,” tweeted Turki Al Al-Shaikh, Head of the General Sports Authority.
In a surprising move, Croatian boss Krunoslav Jurcic was chosen as the man to take the largely inexperienced squad to Kuwait, instead of the newly appointed national team coach Juan Antonio Pizzi.
Spokesman Mohamed Al-Shaikh said that the SAFF was not disrespecting the competition by sending a second-string team. “This selection does not mean that we underestimate the competition,” he said. “It is part of the strategy agreed with coach Pizzi.”
Jurcic was recruited earlier this year to lead “the talents team,” a parallel national team composed mainly of talented Saudi-born youngsters between the ages of 18 and 22 identified by the national scouting committee. The team is meant to serve as a pipeline to supply talent from lower divisions and non-league football to the national team.
This squad is the first indication of that pathway bearing fruit. Six youngsters born in Saudi Arabia to foreign parents have been included, including trio Hammam Al-Ajaj, Ali Al-Nimr and Ali Yahya, who all hail from Yemeni families. Ahmed Ashraf has also been called up. He was born in the Kingdom to Egyptian parents.
The US-based Faris Abdi and Vitesse Arnhem’s Mukhtar Ali, who are both expected to be fast-tracked into the national team set-up, miss out on selection, however. Ali, the former Chelsea midfielder, remains with his club side in Holland as the competition falls outside of FIFA’s coordinated international match calendar.
Both players are expected to feature in the Saudi Arabia squad participating in the AFC Under-23 Championship in China next month.