World Cup 2006 Preview – Saudi Arabia
Outright Odds: 1000/1
Group H Winners: 33/1
Germany will mark Saudi Arabia’s fourth successive appearance at the World Cup but they are still trying to emulate the success achieved in the 1994 finals. Their debut in the USA was extraordinary, beating Morocco 2-1 and then Belgium 1-0 to cement a place in the second round. Striker Saeed Owairan also scored that memorable solo goal against the Belgians.
Since then, Saudi Arabia have barely made their mark in the finals, for positive reasons, anyway. The 2002 finals saw them on the receiving end of an 8-0 drubbing against Germany in which Miroslav Klose scored five goals while they also finished bottom of their group in 1998. Since losing to Sweden in the last 16 in the 1994 finals, they have endured five defeats and one draw in six matches.
Perhaps the Saudi Arabian royal family had a point after all as football was banned in the kingdom until as recently as 1951.
Former Argentina international Gabriel Calderon will be keen to make amends after replacing Gerard van der Lem following the Saudi’s poor showing at the 2004 Asian Cup. Saudi Arabia qualified unbeaten in 12 matches, including home and away victories over South Korea.
The side conceded just two goals in 12 matches, helped by highly rated goalkeeper Mabrouk Zaid who is regarded the best in Asia. He is a worthy replacement to Mohamed Al Deayea who recorded a World record 173 caps for his country and is keen on a move to Europe. He won’t have a better shop window than in Germany.
The World Cup will be one final hurrah for veteran playmaker Sami Al Jaber. This will be his fourth tournament and he has represented his country for half of his 33 years. After netting on his debut in 1990, he became the first Asian player to score goals in two consecutive World Cups – scoring the winning goal against Morocco in 1994 to mark Saudi Arabia’s first ever finals win and in the 2-2 draw against South Africa in 1998. Al Jaber, came out of retirement to assist with qualification and scored twice in the 3-0 win against Uzbekistan.
What is likely to prevent Saudi Arabia from qualifying from Group H is an overall lack of experience against top class opposition. Only Al Jaber in his short spell at Wolves during the 2000/01 season and Fahd Al Ghashayan during a spell at AZ Alkmaar have experience of European club football in the country’s history.
The tournament will be a grand occasion to loyal servant Sami Al Jaber but it is likely to be an early exit for Saudi Arabia yet again. The most profitable bet could be for them to lose all three matches and finish bottom of the group. Big hitters will not be put off by the odds-on prices for both Spain and Ukraine.
Spain to beat Saudi Arabia @ 1/4
Ukraine to beat Saudi Arabia @ 4/9