LONDON: Juan Antonio Pizzi has sprung a huge surprise by recalling two veterans, with a combined age of 78, to the national side to face Iraq in a friendly next month.
Defender Hussein Abdulghani, 41, and midfielder Mohammed Al-Shlhoub, 37, have been included in the XI named well advance of the match with their Gulf rivals at Basra Sports City stadium on Feb. 28. Abdulghani will play on the left side of a four-man defence while Al-Shlhoub will be play in the middle of a five-man midfield. A third veteran, Al-Nassr’s 34-year-old striker Hassan Al-Raheb, has been named on the bench. He won his last cap in 2009 in a friendly against Qatar.
At the other end of the spectrum, Abdulquddus Atiah, Saeed Al Robeai, Mohammed Al Kuwaykibi and Abdulfattah Adam will all win their first caps, with Adam, the Saudi-born forward with parents from Niger, set to lead the line as a lone striker.
But it's the selections of Al-Shlhoub and Abdulghani that will grab the headlines.
Al-Shlhoub has played 117 times for Saudi Arabia but his last international came in 2012 under Frank Rijkaard in a World Cup qualifier against Australia in Melbourne. The playmaker has played at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and was in the Asian Cup squad that reached the final of the 2000 Asian Cup in Beirut.
Abdulghani has made 134 appearances for Saudi Arabia and made his debut more than 20 years ago. He last played for his country in 2014 in an international friendly in Jeddah against Lebanon under the tenure of Spanish coach Juan Ramón López Caro. The left-sided defender currently plies his trade in the Bulgaria with FC Vereya. He made his debut in a 2-1 friendly win over Zambia in 1996 — a year before 20-year-old goalkeeper Atiah was even born. A few months later the defender won the 1996 Asian Cup at 19 and played in three World Cup finals in 1998, 2002 and 2006.
Abdulghani is in fifth place in Saudi Arabia's all-time appearance list, 38 matches behind Mohammed Al-Deayea who leads the list with 172 matches. Al-Shlhoub is in 10th position and 12th in the all-time goal scoring charts with 19 goals.
Team to face Iraq
Abdulquddus Atiah; Hassan Muath, Saeed Al Robeai, Ahmed Assiri, Hussein Abdulghani; Ibrahim Ghaleb, Hattan Bahebri, Ahmed Al Fraidi, Mohammed Al-Shlhoub, Mohammed Al Kuwaykibi; Abdulfattah Adam.
Substitues: Waleed Abdullah, Saeed Al Mowalad, Mohammed Jahfali, Abdullah Al Zouri, Waleed Bakshween, Mohammed Abousaban, Nasser Al Shamrani and Hassan Al-Raheb.
Squad for the training camp in Riyadh Feb. 21-27
Goalkeepers: Waleed Abdullah (Al-Nassr), Abdulquddus Atiah (Al-Fayha)
Defender: Hassan Muath (Al-Shabab), Saeed Al Robeai (Al-Faisaly), Ahmed Assiri (Al-Ittihad Jeddah), Abdullah Al Zouri (Al-Hilal), Hussein Abdulghani (FC Vereya, Bulgaria), Mohammed Jahfali (Al-Hilal), Saeed Al Mowalad (Al-Ahly Jeddah)
Midfielders: Waleed Bakshween (Al-Ahly Jeddah), Mohammed Abousaban (Al-Faisaly), Ibrahim Ghaleb (Al-Nassr), Ahmed Al Fraidi (Al-Nassr), Hattan Bahebri (Al-Shabab), Mohammed Al Shlhoub (Al-Hilal), Mohammed Al Kuwaykibi (Al-Ettifaq).
Forwards: Nasser Al Shamrani (Al-Shabab), Hassan Al Raheb (Al-Nassr), Abdulfattah Adam (Al-Taawun)