TEAM PROFILE: Saudi Arabia plotting a repeat of 1994 World Cup showing

Juan Antonio Pizzi will lead Saudi Arabia at the World Cup. (AFP)
Updated 12 June 2018
0

TEAM PROFILE: Saudi Arabia plotting a repeat of 1994 World Cup showing

  • Fahad Al-Muwallad will be Green Falcons' key man
  • Goals could be a problem for Juan Antonio Pizzi's side

All this week we will profile the four Arab teams hoping to do well in Russia. Today we examine the credentials of Saudi Arabia. The Green Falcons are making their fifth appearance at the World Cup and their first since 2006.

How they got there
Saudi Arabia were pitched in Group B of Asian qualifying and were seen very much as outsiders for the two automatic spots behind Japan, Australia and UAE. But they got their campaign off to a dream start with wins in the space of a week over Thailand and Iraq, with the latter secured by two dramatic goals in the last nine minutes from Nawaf Al-Abed. They never looked back and the highlight was a 3-0 home win over the UAE. They eventually secured automatic qualification on the final day when Fahad Al-Muwallad sunk group winners Japan with a goal that will go down in Saudi Arabia folklore.

Manager
Juan Antonio Pizzi was handpicked in November as the man to replace Edgardo Bauza, who lasted just 69 days in charge. Ironically, Pizzi trained under Bauza at Rosario Central in 1999-2000. Pizzi arrived in the Kingdom with a wealth of experience, having coached in Argentina, Spain and Mexico and also the national team in Chile, coaching global stars such as Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal. A former striker who racked up 160 goals in 364 games during a 15-year career with clubs including Barcelona, Tenerife and Valencia, Pizzi was part of Spain’s squad at the 1998 World Cup but this will be his first as a coach.

Tactics
Pizzi favors a 4-3-2-1 formation and this worked well against Germany. He has been playing Mohammad Al-Sahlawi as the lone striker but he is without an international goal in more than a year and the smart money is on Pizzi going with Fahad Al-Muwallad.
Pizzi places lots of importance on the full backs as they are expected to provide the width, with Yasser Al-Shahrani particularly key. Abdullah Otayf will anchor the midfield and he is the linchpin of the team. Salem Al-Dawsari and Yahya Al-Shehri will provide the flair from the more advanced attacking midfield positions and are expected to chip in with goals.

Key man
Fahad Al-Muwallad became the first player from the Kingdom to play in La Liga when he turned out for Levante against Leganes in May — and he is fancied to build on that history-making achievement and lead the way in Russia. He will always be remembered as the player who booked World Cup qualification with that goal against Japan, but the Al-Ittihad forward has since gone on to score against Ukraine and come within a whisker of netting an equalizer against Italy. He is a crowd-pleasing talent and has all the tools (pace, power and trickery) to succeed on the biggest stage.

World Cup history
This will be the Green Falcons’ fifth appearance at the finals but their first since 2006. They have won only two matches at the finals — and they both came in 1994, against Morocco and Belgium, when they made it out of the group for the first and only time. Goalkeeper Mohamed Al-Deayea has made more appearances (10) than any other Saudi player at the finals while Samir Al-Jaber has played in four World Cups and scored in two, 12 years apart.

Strengths
The flair of Al-Dawsari, Al-Shehri and Al-Muwallad. They have been in Spain for the past six months and while they did not get the game-time everyone hoped, Pizzi feels they are fitter and stronger and will certainly not be fatigued like so many others after a long season. Saudi Arabia’s chances rest on their creative shoulders.

Weaknesses
Goals. The fact Pizzi named only two strikers in his squad tells you plenty about the dearth of strikers in the Kingdom. Al-Sahlawi’s record of 28 in 40 games is flattered by eight in two games against whipping boys East Timor while Muhannad Assiri scored his first international goal in seven years in February.


Paving the way for Mo Salah

Updated 18 June 2018
0

Paving the way for Mo Salah

  • Long before the Liverpool star arrived in the UK, a handful of Egyptian players made the same journey
  • Mohammed Salah has the fame and, with a reported salary of £200,000 (SR1 million) per week, he certainly has the fortune.

LONDON: The World Cup is underway, and the hopes of football-mad Arab nations are rising. Many eyes are on Mohamed Salah, star of the Egyptian team and of the English Premier League, to elevate the reputation of Arab footballers.

At Liverpool, the 25-year-old is adored. But he is not the first Egyptian that British football fans have taken to their hearts.

Long, long before Mo, there was Mustafa Mansour and Mohamed Latif in the 1930s and before them, there was Hussein Hegazi and Tewfik Abdullah. All were Egyptians foot- ballers who brought their dazzling skills to British clubs.

One was a striker who had poems written about him; one graced the cover of the top football magazine of the time; one was a goalkeeper regarded as a trailblazer for African football who later served as a government minister, and one played for Glasgow Rangers and went on to become his country’s top football commentator.

 

Hussein Hegazi

Hegazi was the first. Born into a wealthy aristocratic Cairo family in 1891, he honed his footballing skills by playing against British soldiers and by the time he arrived in England in 1911 to study engineering at University College, London, he was already known in Egypt as a prolific goal scorer, notching up 57 in one season. He was also a top-class runner, winning the national championships in the quarter mile and half-mile (equivalent to today’s 400 meters and 800 meters) four years in a row.

How he came to the attention of Dulwich Hamlet FC, a well-established non-league club in South London is unclear but he made his debut with them on Sept. 23, 1911, to great acclaim. With his wiry build (he weighed only 60 kg), he was de- scribed as having “a lightning drive.”

A match report in the local newspa- per, the “South London Press,” said: “The Egyptian gave a splendid exhibition... simply conjured with the ball.” Another report from Oct. 13 called him “the thinking man’s footballer.”

The fans loved him as much as the pundits and promptly nicknamed him Nebuchadnezzar.

It was not long before a much bigger club noticed him. Fulham, then in the Second Division (today’s Championship), were eager to sign him up, especially after Hegazi scored in his try-out for them against Stockport County on Nov. 11.

Alarmed at the prospect of losing him, Dulwich Hamlet manager Pa Wilson turned up at Hegazi’s lodgings. After listening to Wil- son’s pleadings, Hegazi felt honor- bound to stay at Dulwich.

“I was in a difficulty for I wanted to play very much in league football and at the same time I did not want to leave Dulwich Hamlet, who have been very good to me,” he said. Wilson called Hegazi “as honorable a man as ever stepped on to a football field” and a writ- er for the “Athletic News” was moved to write a five-verse poem in tribute.

Hegazi did two European tours with Dulwich Hamlet and also played for the London county team. In 1913, he embarked on studies at Cambridge University but left before the end of his first year, though not before winning a Blue with the university football team. He played for the national Egyptian team in the 1920 and 1924 Olympics and finally hung up his boots in 1932, aged 40. He died in 1958. A street in the Garden City area of Cairo is named after him.

 

Tewfik Abdullah

Tewfik Abdullah (sometimes spelled Tawfik Abdallah), the second Egyp- tian to play in Britain, was encour- aged by his friendship with Tommy Barbour, a Scottish soldier in the Brit- ish army serving in Egypt who also played fullback for Derby County.

Born in Cairo in June 1896, Abdul- lah, a midfielder, began his career with Cairo club. Mokhtalat, and played for the national team at the 1920 Olympics. He also played against the British army, where he met Barbour.

Abdullah made his English league debut in October 1920 against Manchester City and was instantly nicknamed “Toothpick.”

One possibly apocryphal tale about his first game relates that he came out on to the pitch asking, “Where’s me camel?” It transpired he was, in fact, asking, “Where’s Mick Hamill?” the City player he had been assigned to mark.

Abdullah scored in the match, which Derby won 3-0. The following month, he was on the cover of the magazine “Topical Times,” with the pyramids and the Sphinx in the background, as part of a feature on the fashion for recruiting players “from far afield.”

In 15 appearances for Derby County, Abdullah never scored again and in 1922 he joined Scottish Second Division side, Cowdenbeath, where he was nick- named “Abe” and was awarded the ultimate acco- lade when a local leading miner named one of his racing greyhounds Abe in his honor. Beset by injury, Abdullah only

stayed one season in Scotland. In 1923, he joined Welsh non-league Bridgend Town and a year later he was back in the league with Hartlepool, in the northeast of England. He made 11 ap- pearances, scored once and at the end of the 1924 season crossed the Atlan- tic to join the exotically named Provi- dence Clamdiggers.

He played for four more teams in the US and went on to coach, but America’s racial segregation laws — which meant he was often not allowed to stay in the same hotels as his white colleagues — dismayed him. He returned to Egypt in the late 1920s for a year but crossed the Atlantic again to join Canadian side Montreal Carsteel, spending the rest of his playing career there.

After retiring he managed Farouk Club (an old name for Zamalek) and in 1940 became manager of the Egyp- tian national team, taking them to the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland.

More than a decade passed before an Egyptian again donned football boots for a British side — and then came a pair of them.

Goalkeeper Mustafa Kamel Man- sour and winger Mohammad La- tif were in Egypt’s 1934 World Cup squad, which was coached by Scots- man James McCrea.

 

Mustafa Kamel Mansour

Mansour, born in Alexandria in Au- gust 1914, began his club career with Al-Ahly. Latif, five years older, played for El-Mokhtalat, (another of Zama- lek’s past names). Encouraged by their mentor, McCrae, they arrived in Scotland in 1935 and enrolled at Jordanhill College to train as physi- cal education teachers.

The Glasgow Rangers wanted them both but Mansour instead chose to join Queen’s Park, Scotland’s oldest club and also the only amateur team in the Scottish professional league. He even turned down the huge sum of £5,000 — equivalent to around £340,000 ($455,000 or SR1.7million) today — to turn professional.

“It was a record at the time but I did not want to play for money,” said Mansour in a BBC interview in 2002. How times have changed.

He spent two seasons at Queen’s Park, where he was affectionately known as Tuffy, and played in al- most 50 league matches and eight Cup ties. He was also a popular adult member of the 72nd Glasgow Scout Troop.

Mansour returned to Egypt when war broke out in 1939, but his foot- balling career was far from over. Af- ter his playing days ended, he quali- fied as an international referee and then managed his old club, Al-Ahly. He was a top-ranking figure in Egyp- tian football and from 1958-61 he was secretary-general of the Confed- eration of African Football. He also served as a minister in the Egyptian government.

He died in 2002, a few weeks af- ter the interview with the BBC and a month before his 88th birthday.

 

Mohammad Latif

Five years older than his compa- triot, Mohammad Latif was from Beni Suef, south of Cairo, and by his early 20s, he was one of the best footballers in the country. His three goals against a British mandate football team during qualification rounds secured both Egypt’s place in the 1934 World Cup and Latif’s place in the squad.

The first non-white to play for Glasgow Rangers made his first team debut on Sept. 14, 1935, the same day that Hitler addressed 54,000 people at a mass rally in Nuremberg, an- nouncing laws against non-whites.

Unfortunately, Latif’s Rangers ca- reer did not progress well. His play- ing was described as “impetuous” and after that first outing, he was left out of the first team for seven months. His next game was also his last and he returned to Egypt to pre- pare for the 1936 Olympics in Ber- lin. He and Mansour both made the squad.

Latif rejoined El-Mokhtalat and continued playing for them until 1945. He moved into coaching and also attained international standard as a referee, before embarking on yet another successful career as a football commentator, achieving fame not only in Egypt but throughout the Arab world as “the sheikh of commentators.”

Mohammed Salah may have the fame and, with a reported salary of £200,000 (SR1 million) per week, he certainly has the fortune.

The names of Hegazi, Abdullah, Mansour and Latif may not echo so resoundingly through the annals of footballing history. But they were pathfinders and admirable ambassa-dors for Arab sportsmen. And that is a hard act to follow.