The party will gather in Jeddah on Tuesday for a seven-day training camp which culminates with a friendly match against Moldova at the King Abdullah Sport City Stadium on Feb. 26. Six of the squad (goalkeeper Abdullah, defenders Assiri and Hassan Muath and midfielders Ibrahim Ghaleb, Hattan Bahebri and Al-Kuwaikbi) are also part of the 19-man Green Falcons squad that will take on Iraq in Basra two days later.
The late addition of the Moldova game to the hectic schedule means Saudi Arabia will now play at least six friendly matches between now and their opening World Cup Group A match with Russia on June 14 — with the possibility of three more to come, including a high-profile game with Italy on May 28.
Pizzi’s squad for the Jeddah camp and the Moldova match heralds first call-ups for Al-Shabab midfielders Abdulwahab Jaafar and Abdullah Al-Khaibari as well as Al-Ettifaq winger Mohammed Al-Kuwaikbi following impressive league campaigns.
Al-Ittihad goalkeeper Fawaz Al-Qarni returns to the squad after a four-year absence, with the last of his two caps a 2-0 friendly defeat against Georgia in 2014. Al-Qarni’s hot form (he has not conceded a goal in 303 minutes of league football) in recent weeks means he is one of five goalkeepers called up to the Jeddah camp as competition for the three goalkeeper spots on the plane to Russia 2018 intensifies. Al-Ahli duo Yasser Al-Mosaileem and Mohammed Al-Owais join Al Hilal’s Abdullah Al-Mayouf and Al-Nassr’s Waleed Abdullah to complete the quintet of goalkeepers looking to present their credentials for the No. 1 spot.
Another Al-Ittihad man making a return to the squad is defender Ahmed Assiri who has ten caps to his name but has not featured for the Green Falcons since their 7-2 friendly victory over Cambodia in January last year. Assiri was not part of the squad that successfully navigated the World Cup qualifiers.
Absent from the squad are all of the nine Saudi players who have joined Spanish clubs in the January transfer window, led by midfielder Yahya Al-Shehri and wingers Fahad Al-Muwallad and Salem Al-Dawsari, as the training camp falls outside the designated FIFA International Match Calendar.
Left-back Abdulrahman Al-Obaid is the highest profile exclusion from the squad as he was pipped for the two slots in his position by Al-Ahli’s Mansour Al-Harbi and Al Hilal’s Yasser Al-Shahrani.
Al-Hilal duo Nawaf Al-Abed and Salman Al-Faraj were not considered due to injury, while vice-captain Taisir Al-Jassim has made an immediate return to the squad following full recovery from ruptured knee ligaments.
Squad for next week’s training camp and match against Moldova
Goalkeepers: Mohammed Al-Owais, Yasser Al Mosaileem (Al-Ahli); Waleed Abdullah (Al-Nassr); Abdullah Al-Mayouf (Al-Hilal); Fawaz Al-Qarni (Al-Ittihad)
Defenders: Osama Hawsawi, Mohammed Al-Burayk, Yasser Al-Shahrani (Al-Hilal), Omar Hawsawi (Al-Nassr), Motaz Hawsawi, Mansour Al-Harbi (Al-Ahli), Ahmed Assiri (Al-Ittihad); Hassan Muath (Al-Shabab).
Midfielders: Ibrahem Ghaleb, Abdulaziz Al-Jibreen (Al-Nassr); Abdulmalik Al-Khaibari, Mohammed Kanno, Abdullah Otayf (Al-Hilal), Abdullah Al-Khaibari, Abdulwahab Jaafar, Hattan Bahebri (Al-Shabab), Taisir Al-Jassim, Hussein Al-Moqahwi, Salman Al-Moasher (Al-Ahli); Mohammed Al-Kuwaikbi (Al-Ittifaq)
Forwards: Mohammed Al-Sahlawi (Al-Nassr); Mohannad Assiri (Al-Ahli); Mujahid Al Mania (Al-Hilal).