Saudi Arabia’s Nawaf Al-Abed on the brink of being one of Asia’s best

Special Saudi Arabia’s Nawaf Al-Abed on the brink of being one of Asia’s best
Nawaf Al-Abed’s steely nerves and silky touch helped Saudi Arabia get to the FIFA World Cup in Russia. (AP)
Updated 08 January 2018

Saudi Arabia’s Nawaf Al-Abed on the brink of being one of Asia’s best

Saudi Arabia’s Nawaf Al-Abed on the brink of being one of Asia’s best

LONDON: With United Arab Emirates star Omar Abdulrahman struggling to produce the goods in the Gulf Cup final against Oman, the title of Asia’s best playmaker could well be up for grabs. Nawaf Al-Abed is the man who can step into the limelight.
At the age of 27, the Saudi Arabian schemer is in his prime. His reputation has not yet matched his performances for both club and country but that could be about to change.
Reputation can be a double-edged sword as Abdulrahman would attest. Being recognized as one of the top players in Asia not only brings expectations from fans, media, teammates and coaches, it brings attention. Opponents know that if they stop the Emirati then they go a long way to stopping his club, Al-Ain, or his country, the UAE.
Whether it is the 2016 AFC Champions League final when Al-Ain lost to Jeonbuk Motors or the Gulf Cup, Omar has come in for close marking and more than a little rough stuff. It comes with the territory of being seen as an attacking threat. The very best have to learn to handle such tactics. The man known as ‘Amoory’ has yet to do so.
Al-Abed has not yet received the same treatment but can expect more respect and attention in the coming months. The signs are, however, that he will be able to handle pretty much all that is thrown or kicked his way. That was the case in qualification for the 2018 World Cup. Without the Al-Hilal man, the Green Falcons would not have made it to Russia. His five goals in the final round of qualifying, were not only as many as anyone else managed, but all came just when the side needed them.
Four came from the spot with three conversions in the first two games ensuring that Saudi Arabia recovered from desperate positions to record a perfect start and build a solid foundation for what proved to be a successful campaign.
His coolness under pressure was obvious.  
“Everyone was talking about the little details of what happened,” he told FIFA in 2016. “What touched my heart and made me proud was that they started calling me ‘The Brave One’ after stepping up in these difficult situations. It’s beautiful to have your team-mates believe in you and I thank them for supporting me.”
That is the difference at the moment between the two Riyadh-born talents. When the pressure has been on at crucial moments, Al-Abed has delivered. The same cannot always be said about Abdulrahman. In the 2017 Gulf Cup final, Abdulrahman missed from the spot twice. The first would have won the game for the UAE in the final minute. The second, in the penalty shootout, would have stopped Oman from doing so. It is harsh to criticize the missing of a spot kick but the destination of title was twice within his grasp.
While Al-Abed’s steely nerves and silky touch helped Saudi Arabia get to Russia, the next step is obvious. He must perform well in the Group A games in the World Cup starting against Russia and then Uruguay and Egypt. If he wants to take the mantle of Asia’s top playmaker from his Emirati rival then there can be no better stage on which to do so.
The opening game against the host nation in front of 80,000 fans in Moscow will not faze the midfielder. It could be a perfect stage for the star. 
All the pressure will be on the Russians.The lowest-ranked nation in the tournament are desperate for the tournament to be a success on and off the pitch. Playing Saudi Arabia, just one place above in 63, is seen as a perfect opportunity to start with three points. With Russia stronger in attack than defense and in need of three points, Nawaf Al-Abed will get space and opportunity to do what he does best — break down defenses while carrying a goal threat of his own.
And if the pressure does come in the shape of a last-minute penalty, it will take a brave fan to bet against the Saudi playmaker making a difference and cementing a growing reputation.