Kuala Lumpur: Having been drawn into Group A alongside hosts Russia, Uruguay and Egypt, Saudi Arabia will be looking to impress at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. the-AFC.com looks back at the Green Falcons' greatest moments on the world’s grandest stage.
Saudi Arabia made their World Cup bow in 1994 in the United States, and have only missed out on two editions since then, namely South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014. Here are the top three highlights of their four World Cup campaigns.
1994: Debut and first goal
Saudi Arabia were handed a stern test on their first-ever World Cup match; a Dutch side boasting the likes of Frank Rijkaard, Ronald Koeman, and Dennis Bergkamp among other top players were one of the contenders for the trophy.
The Saudis would not be fazed, however. In fact, the plucky debutants shocked their opponents by opening the scoring in the 18th minute, as midfielder Fuad Amin rose to glance a header past Ed de Goey and send the Saudi crowd at Washington DC's RFK Stadium into raptures. It was the perfect start to their World Cup exploit, but one that only lasted until the 50th minute, when the Netherlands equalised.
Gaston Taument then scored a late winner for the Oranje to dampen the underdogs’ mood, but a spirited 2-1 loss to such a powerful side set the tone for manager Jorge Solari's campaign ahead.
1994: Iconic Al Owairan goal secures Round of 16 berth
The squad took heart from their narrow loss to the Netherlands and dispatched Morocco 2-1 in the next match as Sami Al Jaber scored his first World Cup goal and Amin added a second to his tournament tally. This meant that Saudi Arabia could qualify to the next round if they could secure a point in their final group match against Belgium.
Apart from eventual champions Brazil, Belgium were the only side in the tournament to have kept clean sheets in their first two games, but the Green Falcons were up for the challenge. With less than five minutes on the clock, the mercurial Said Al Owairan picked up the ball in the middle of his own half, and danced his way past four players before smashing the ball into the far corner to give his side the lead.
The Saudi number 10's strike was chosen as the goal of the tournament and Solari's men held on for a 1-0 win to secure a spot in the knock-out stage on their World Cup debut.
Sweden, the eventual bronze medallists, ended Saudi Arabia’s fairytale run with a 3-1 victory, but 1994 remains the Green Falcon's best performance in a World Cup to date.
2006: Al Jaber scores in last ever international tournament
The 2006 FIFA World Cup was not a particularly enjoyable affair for Saudi Arabia, as they failed to win a single match in Group H. They were drawn against European heavyweights Spain, as well as Ukraine and Tunisia.
It would also mark the last international tournament for striker Sami Al Jaber, who had come out of retirement to help his side qualify for the finals in Germany.
Rejoining the national team in early 2005, the veteran scored three times in the third qualifying round as Saudi Arabia topped Group A and clinched a spot at the main tournament the following year.
In the Saudis’ opening match against Tunisia in Munich, Ziad Jaziri gave the North Africans the lead midway through the first half, volleying home after some suspect defending.
Saudi Arabia struck back in the second half, however, as Yasser Al Qahtani’s deft finish levelled the scores 12 minutes after the break
With both sides pressing for a winner, Al Jaber came off the bench to cement his status as one of the greatest players to ever represent his country when, with six minutes of normal time remaining, he ran onto a threaded through ball and calmly slotted past a stretching Ali Boumnijel to spark wild celebrations amongst the team’s supporters in the stadium and at home.
Sadly, that late goal would not prove to be the winner, as Tunisia clawed back an equaliser. Nevertheless, the goal went into the history books as the last one of Al Jaber's 46 strikes in a Saudi Arabia shirt. It also remains the nation's last World Cup goal as they failed to qualify for the next two tournaments in 2010 and 2014.