Asian Cup 2015: Saudi Arabia to bounce back from Gulf Cup defeat
Fresh from hosting the 2014 Gulf Cup of Nations, runners-up Saudi Arabia will arrive in Australia with a point to prove and national pride to restore.
The Green Falcons were flying through the tournament on home soil, but were thwarted by controversial 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar in a dramatic finale at a bustling King Fahd Stadium.
Saudi Arabia are also Asian Cup royalty, having triumphed on three occasions, just one behind record-winners Japan. Their ambitious aim will no doubt be to ease their Gulf Cup embarrassment by lifting a fourth gong in Oceania.
That being said, however, the Green Falcons have enjoyed mixed results in recent Asian Cups, with their victories all taking place in the 1980’s and 90’s. Saudi Arabia reached second place in 2007, but failed to qualify from the group stage last time out, so there is clearly work to do.
Before faltering against their regional rivals in the Gulf Cup, the Green Falcons were on a rampant run of seven games unbeaten and will be looking to pick up their fine form again in the group stage, where they first face China.
Top marksman Nassir Al-Shamrani of Al-Hilal fame has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons recently, following accusations of unsporting behaviour in the Asian Champions League final against West Sydney Wanderers.
Al-Shamrani, recently crowned AFC Asian Footballer of the Year 2014, can expect to receive a hostile welcome, but his talents speak for themselves. The 31-year-old forward has been in prolific form recently, with two goals in the Gulf Cup for his country and seven in 12 across all competitions for his club.
The Arabian outfit have plenty of potential game changers in offence, so controversial Al-Shamrani will not be without support.
Rampant wideman Nawaf Al Abed, can be deployed anywhere across attacking midfield and also has an eye for goal. Another Al-Hilal forward threat, Al Abed is credited with scoring what could have been the fastest goal in professional football history.
Two seconds into an Under-23s cup game, the now 24-year-old lobbed the goalkeeper, only to see his wonder goal chalked off as the game was ruled invalid. Either way, Group B competitors China, North Korea and Uzbekistan will have to stop Saudi Arabia form being quick off the mark.
Al Abed’s fellow flying wingman Salem Al-Dawsari is also set to star, despite having just 11 caps for his country. The highly-rated 23-year-old grabbed the winner in the Gulf Cup semi-final against United Arab Emirates, and will be keen to enhance his international standing on Australian shores.
Saudi Arabia should certainly have enough to trouble their group rivals, but qualification to the knockout phase may depend on whether they have been deflated, or motivated, by their Gulf Cup defeat.