Saudi Arabia World Cup Preview & Analysis: Schedule, Roster & Projections
Pictured: Salem Al-Dawsari.
- Saudi Arabia is a longshot to win the World Cup.
- Do they stand a chance of finding any results?
- Read on for BJ Cunningham's full team preview.
The 2022 FIFA World Cup has arrived, and Action Network’s staff of soccer experts are here to take you through each and every team that will be participating.
Read on for a full breakdown of Saudi Arabia ahead of the tournament, and click here for analysis on each of the other 31 teams.
Saudi Arabia World Cup Preview
Saudi Arabia are in the World Cup for the sixth time in the country’s history after finishing atop their World Cup qualifying group over Japan and Australia. Much like Qatar, Saudi Arabia are one of the mystery teams coming into this tournament, because their entire roster is playing in the Saudi Pro League. In fact, their total squad transfer value is only $23,100,000, which is the second lowest in this tournament only to Qatar, per transfermarkt.com.
They were also one of the teams that were a bit fortunate to actually finish in second in their qualifying group based on their xG results. They cruised through the first round of World Cup Qualifying, but in the second round, they only created 14.4 xG and allowed 11.0 xG in 10 matches. That’s not impressive when six of those matches came against China, Oman and Vietnam, who are ranked outside the Action Network’s top 80 in the world.
They had two matches each with Japan and Australia, which was a good barometer to see if they could hang with high quality competition. The answer to that question was no, because they lost the xG battle by a combined 5.4 to 4.1.
|Chances To…||Action Projections||bet365 Odds|
|Win Group Stage||3.95%||+2000|
|Advance To Knockout Round||15.87%||+500|
|Win World Cup||0.03%||+75000|
|Odds as of publish. Action projections by Nick Giffen of the Action Predictive Analytics team.|
What was interesting about Saudi Arabia’s performance in the 2018 World Cup is they were able to hold over 50% possession in every single match, but against Uruguay and Russia, they were only able to create a total of 0.5 xG and allowed 3.4 xG.
The match against Japan on the road was quite telling that Saudi Arabia really aren’t used to not having the ball and aren’t that effective sitting in and playing a low block. The same thing happened when they played Australia on the road as well.
However, much like Qatar, Saudi Arabia will have an added benefit to all of their players playing in the Saudi Pro League. That league went on pause on October 16th, giving them over a month of rest and training together to gear up for the World Cup, while the rest of the teams in their group will have less than two weeks.
So, if they weren’t able to do it against Japan and Australia, what makes you think they are going to be able to hang with Argentina, Mexico and Poland?
The prospects of Saudi Arabia getting out of this group are slim, especially when they open up against Lionel Messi and Argentina.
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Key Player: Salem Al-Dawsari
Salem Al-Dawsari has been a mainstay of the Saudi Arabian roster for a long time. The 31-year-old left winger who plays for Al-Hilal has made 53 appearances and scored 14 goals.
His natural position is at left wing, which is why Hervé Renard’s 4-2-3-1 system fits him so well. He has great ability on the ball to dribble past defenders, cut into the penalty box and he has a rocket of a right foot, making him a threat from outside the box. So, if the opponent’s right back isn’t a solid defender, he will cause a lot of problems down the left flank of the pitch.
Al-Dawsari also has great pace with or without the ball at his feet and can get in behind the opposing team’s defense. His attacking partnership with Firas Al-Buraikan is one that will have to be in sync if Saudi Arabia is able to threaten the opposing net.
Hervé Renard took over Saudi Arabia in the summer of 2019 after managing Morocco the previous four years. Renard typically likes to employ a 4-2-3-1, allowing his two best attacking players, Al-Dawsari and Firas Al Buraikan, to play their natural attacking positions.
Saudi Arabia play a slow, intricate style, playing out from the back and putting a premium on possessing the ball. It’s why a lot of their matches were very low-event; their games averaged just 2.5 xG during 10 matches in the second round of qualification.
The biggest question for Renard is, can Saudi Arabia sit and defend when they aren’t going to have over 50% of the ball? Poland, Mexico and Argentina are likely going to control a majority of the possession against them.
Renard will have a full month of preparation with his team, but if the matches against Japan and Australia are any indication, Saudi Arabia are going to struggle.
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Saudi Arabia World Cup Schedule
|Argentina||5 a.m. ET, Nov. 22|
|Poland||8 a.m. ET, Nov. 26|
|Mexico||2 p.m. ET, Nov. 30|
Most Recent World Cup Result
Third Place, Group Stage (2018)
Saudi Arabia qualified for the World Cup Finals in 2018, but it wasn’t a fruitful campaign. A lone win against Egypt was far too little for the side, who exited the group stage three points behind second-placed Russia.