Saudi Arabia Men’s Football Team Headed to 2018 FIFA World Cup

Saudi World Cup Fans
Fans celebrate Saudi Arabia's World Cup qualification with a 1-0 victory over Japan. PHOTO CREDIT: Saudi Press Agency

For the first time in 12 years, the Saudi Arabia Men’s National Football Team is headed to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

Saudi Arabia became the first Arab nation to qualify for Russia on September 5, 2017 with a 1-0 victory over Japan at King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah. The Green Falcons won in front of a hometown crowd of 62,165, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Fahad Al-Muwallad scored in the 63rd minute for the only goal of the match. Saudi goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf kept a clean sheet for the Green Falcons, turning away three Japanese shots on goal.

Saudi Arabia ended Round 3 with 19 points, tied for second place with Australia in Group B. On the goal differential tiebreaker, Saudi Arabia (with a +7 goal differential) advanced over Australia (+5 goal differential).

Saudi Arabia will be making its fifth appearance in World Cup history. The Green Falcons debuted in the World Cup in 1994, and participated for the tournament in 1998, 2002, and 2006 as well.

Saudi Arabia’s return to the World Cup comes at a time when sports and entertainment are at the forefront of the Kingdom’s modernization.

“Football club brands are reliant on strong on-field performance and individual player brands,” sports analyst Finn Dowley told Arab News. “The World Cup will thrust Saudi Arabia’s star players into the spotlight which will directly benefit the brands of the clubs they play for.”

With the prospect of another World Cup win this year, the Green Falcons in particular are gaining fan attention and strong local support.

While local clubs have maintained solid backing from players showcased in the World Cup qualifiers, local clubs are looking for a boost prior to Saudi Arabia’s privatization plans.

“Assuming there is significant interest from the private sector and robust bidding, and there are many reasons to believe this will indeed be the case, we can anticipate that the private-sector bidders, having performed rigorous due diligence, will feel confident they can increase brand values and commercialize the associated assets to increase and diversify revenues,” Steve Bainbridge of Al Tamimi & Company told Arab News.

The team’s World Cup qualification is likely to increase merchandise sales and sponsorships. “The growth of Saudi football club brands will depend on levels of investment and quality of brand management,” Dowley said. “Savvy owners will look to industry and market specialists to develop their brands in order to maximize financial return.”