FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan looks at how Russia 2018 has set Saudi Arabia up for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in four years’ time.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup may have only just ended but, given how this edition was widely hailed as the best ever, it is only natural that many are already looking ahead to Qatar in four years’ time.
For Asia, Russia 2018 also marked an important milestone given it not only marked the first time it had five representatives present on world football’s biggest stage, but Saudi Arabia, Iran, Australia, Korea Republic also combined for the continent’s best-ever performance with a collective four wins and three draws.
As ever, the conclusion of the World Cup also brings about plenty of upheaval with several experienced names calling it a day after one final World Cup appearance, while many up-and-coming youngsters also use the tournament to establish themselves as genuine international stars.
In this “Looking ahead to the 2022 World Cup” series, FOX Sports Asia delves deeper into what the future holds for these five Asian powerhouses – starting with Saudi Arabia.
What happened in Russia?
The Green Falcons’ Russian adventure got off to the worst possible start as they were thrashed 5-0 by the hosts in the opening match, although they salvaged some pride in a narrow 1-0 defeat to Uruguay, where they more than held their own against their more-illustrious South American opponents.
Then, in their final Group A match with a knockout round berth already out of the equation, the Saudis ended on a high by coming from behind to beat a Mohamed Salah-inspired Egypt 2-1, courtesy of goals by Salman Al-Faraj and Salem Al-Dawsari.
Likely key departures (ages in 2022): Osama Hawsawi (38), Omar Hawsawi (36), Taisir Al-Jassim (37), Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (35), Muhannad Asiri (35)
Potential starting XI at next World Cup (ages in 2022)
GK: Mohammed Al-Owais (30)
RB: Mohammed Al-Breik (29)
CB: Mohammed Jahfali (31)
CB: Motaz Hawsawi (30)
LB: Yaseer Al-Shahrani (30)
DM: Abdullah Otayf (29)
CM: Mohamed Kanno (27)
CM: Salman Al-Faraj (32)
RW: Yahya Al-Shehri (32)
LW: Salem Al-Dawsari (30)
ST: Hattan Bahebri (29)
Up-and-coming prospects (ages in 2022): Rakan Al-Anaze (23), Hamdan Al-Shamrani (25), Abdullah Al-Khaibari (24)
Forecast for Qatar 2022
Saudi Arabia are set to lose key components of what has made of their spine for the past decade, with centre-back Osama Hawsawi, playmaker Taisir Al-Jassim and striker Mohammad Al-Sahlawi among the list of players who will be over 35 by the time the next World Cup comes along.
Nonetheless, the Green Falcons have done a good job in regularly introducing fresh faces into the side and the likes of Salem Al-Dawsari, Abdullah Otayf and Yaseer Al-Shahrani should be at the peak of their powers in four years.
The Saudis also have a handful of young talents that impressed in January’s AFC Under-23 Championship, including left-back Hamdan Al-Shamrani, central midfielder Abdullah Al-Khaibari and the silky-skilled Rakan Al-Anaze, who can play anywhere in attack.
With Salman Al-Faraj and Motaz Hawsawi still present to provide the experience, the foundation is certainly there for Saudi Arabia to build on from Russia 2018.