Saudi Arabia out to surprise the world by making it to last 16 in Qatar – predicted line up and stats

SAUDI Arabia are up against Argentina, Mexico and Poland in Group C.

Argentina is naturally expected to finish 1st, and the Mexicans and the Poles should fight for the 2nd place, but depending on their luck, the Arabians will try to surprise the world and make it to the Round of 16.

Predicted starting XI 

Saudi Arabia have been alternating between the 4-3-3, 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 formations lately and they can play well according to these three types of formations.

However, Renard is more likely going to opt for the 4-2-3-1 one and might change to the 4-3-3 during the game if needed.

He will start the tournament with Al Owais as a goalkeeper as he’s more experienced. At the same time, Fawaz Al-Qarni, Mohammed Al Rubaie and probably Nawaf Al-Aqidi will be the backup goalkeepers.

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The defensive line will be composed of Sultan Al-Ghanam as a right-back, Abdullah Madu and Abdulelah Al-Amri as centre-backs and Yasser Al-Shahrani as a left-back.

This defence is composed of experienced players who played with each other a lot and therefore it is expected that the defensive line will be solid during this tournament, as team chemistry is always a key asset during international tournaments like the World Cup.

In midfield, the team will most likely rely on Salman Al-Faraj and Mohamed Kanno as central midfielders while both Fahad Al-Muwallad and Salem Al-Dawsari can play on the wings, knowing that the two players can be very dangerous in these positions.


The squad looks balanced on paper even though it lacks players with physical strength. 

Therefore, the team will have to prove on the field that they are capable of handling attacks like Argentina’s, Poland’s and Mexico’s, and that will certainly not be an easy task. Facing Messi, Lewandowski, and Napoli’s Hirving Lozano surely isn’t going to be an easy task!

To score goals, they will need to focus on counterattacks, knowing that they have got some quick and efficient attacking players like Salem Al-Dawsari and Hattan Bahebri. 

Saudi Arabia has some young talent upfront, but still beating teams like their opponents in Group C won’t be easy and even collecting one single point will be a major challenge.

Attacking phase

Saudi Arabia’s attacking statistics are not really encouraging. The team doesn’t win a lot of offensive duels, the players do not shoot on target a lot per match and more importantly, their goalscoring statistics are quite low.

Shooting from distance is one of the tools Saudi Arabia are good at and they should focus on using this in their favour.

Long range shooting is one of Saudi Arabia’s greatest weapons

At the same time, the attacking players will have to be focused 100% on scoring and there will be no excuse for missing chances like the one shown below. 

Saudi Arabia can struggle to take their chances

Crossing from the wings can be effective and cutting inside from players like Salem Al-Dawsari can be extremely useful and the coaching staff can build movements and combinations on that. 

Relying on shooting from distance only would make the team’s moves predictable and defending against such actions will become easier for opponents.

For example, the player intending to shoot in this action below could have passed to his teammate who was asking for the ball as both of them could have opted for a passing combination to exclude the opposing defenders. 

Instead, he automatically went for the shot without even looking at what was surrounding him and who was asking for the ball.

Sometimes selfishness can creep in to Saudi Arabia’s game with players preferring to shoot from long range

Defensive phase

Saudi Arabia’s defensive phase will be crucial during the tournament as the level of endurance and resistance of this defence will play a big part in determining Saudi Arabia’s overall result. 

As opposed to their attacking statistics, Saudi Arabia’s defensive numbers are quite more solid as they win a fairly good number of defensive duels and aerial duels. 

In this action, Saudi Arabia were lucky because there was an offside position of the striker, but on other occasions, they often defend fairly well.

Defensive and aerial duels are often won by the Saudis

In addition, Saudi Arabia will have to avoid keeping the ball too much in dangerous areas.

Saudi Arabia doesn’t seem to deal well with such pressing and they showed on some occasions that they might make some individual mistakes and concede the ball to opponents.

In this game against Ecuador, Saudi Arabia’s midfielder tries to keep the ball but puts himself in trouble.

Holding onto the ball can lead to Saudi Arabia surrendering possession in dangerous areas

Transitions

In terms of transitions, Saudi Arabia usually start their actions with Al-Faraj, who is their key midfield player. 

In the following picture, he passes towards the right and on other occasions, he provides passes to Al-Dawsari who is one of the best in Saudi Arabia in terms of dribbling skills. 

Therefore, the team often rely on him for progressions from the left wing, cutting inside or early crosses towards the striker.

Key midfielder Al-Faraj usually starts their transitions

Whenever possible, Saudi Arabia rely on quick passing combinations to exclude the opposing players and start counter-attacks. And their tactics are often effective, concerning transitions.

Quick passing combinations push Saudi Arabia forward

Attackers

Saudi Arabia has got plenty of powerful attacking options to choose from and Renard will have to choose the best players for each match of the group stage. 

As wingers, Fahad Al-Muwallad and Salem Al-Dawsari represent great additions to the team, as they are responsible for both wings and especially for supporting the striker and creating opportunities for themselves and for the striker.

Midfielders

The midfield will have to resist a lot during this competition and make sure to intercept passes regularly and help the defensive line continuously since it will be impossible for four players to defend against attacks with dangerous players like Argentina’s.

Therefore, Mohamed Kanno, Salem Al-Dawsari, Hattan Bahebri and perhaps Abdullah Otayf should give a lot of support to the defence in the non-possession phase to concede the minimum number of opportunities or goals. 

Defenders

The defensive line will be the most crucial part of this team as the defensive performance of Saudi Arabia will determine if they will have a chance of progressing or not. 

The back four will have to remain organised throughout the three games and avoid making marking mistakes whether in set pieces or in open play to avoid conceding unnecessary goals.

Key player

Salem Al-Dawsari is Saudi Arabia’s key player in this tournament as he is one of the most skilful Saudi Arabian players at the moment if not the best. 

He is mainly a left winger who plays at Al Hilal and this player can definitely solve Saudi Arabia’s attacking issues given his great individual skills.

He is a very agile player with excellent technique whether in terms of passing, shooting or dribbling. 

Renard will have to exploit Al-Dawsari’s abilities in the best possible way to help the team score goals and make positive results. 

Indeed, defensively speaking, Al-Dawsari is not a player who can be helpful enough, but he makes up for that by being an excellent passer and a very good finisher.

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Tournament prediction

Saudi Arabia will have to fight hard for any point they may collect.

But the World Cup is a special moment and every team has a chance of going forward and reaching the Round of 16. 

Not so long ago in 2014, Costa Rica finished first in a group with England, Italy and Uruguay, so anything can happen!

For even more detailed analysis of all 32 teams in the FIFA World Cup 2022, download your copy of the November Total Football Analysis magazine here

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