Jeddah: It was mission accomplished for Saudi Arabia on Tuesday as Fahad Al Muwallad’s goal just after the hour saw the Green Falcons defeat Japan 1-0 to return to the FIFA World Cup stage for the first time in over a decade.
By securing the runners-up spot in Group B, Bert van Marwijk’s men took the fourth and final automatic qualification to Russia 2018 joining their Matchday 10 visitors, Korea Republic, Japan and Islamic Republic of Iran.
For the Saudi Arabia players, the support of the massed ranks of their fans were key to ending their World Cup finals drought that begun after the 2006 edition.
Captain Osama Hawsawi: “This achievement comes as a result of the support and the efforts of everyone involved, especially our loyal fans.”
Saudi Arabia’s top scorer in the qualifiers, Nawaf Al Abed: “When someone gets all this appreciation and love, it is natural that success will follow.”
Defender Omar Hawsawi summed up the feeling from the team: “Thank you fans! Whatever we say, it’s not enough to do justice to you. You deserve this happiness.”
The Green Falcons have long been considered one of Asia’s most successful national teams, having won the AFC Asian Cup three times and qualified for the World Cup four consecutive times since debuting at the 1994 tournament, where they reached the Round of 16.
The two-tournament absence from the world’s international stage at the 2010 and 2014 editions, though, comprised something of a slump for Saudi Arabia and also saw back-to-back Group stage eliminations from the AFC Asian Cup in 2011 and 2015.
Now, though, the successful qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup has the Green Falcons believing a return to past glories is on the horizon.
Midfielder Yahya Al Shehri: “The task was difficult, but the match against Japan showed that giants remain giants.”
Matchwinner Al Muwallad: “When our spirit comes to the fore, the Green Falcons are unstoppable.”