Big upset puts global spotlight on Saudi Arabia’s players

Nov 22, 2022, 4:16 PM | Updated: Nov 23, 2022, 6:19 am

Abdulelha Al-Malki celebra la victoria 2-1 de Arabia Saudí ante Argentina en el partido del Grupo ...

Abdulelha Al-Malki celebra la victoria 2-1 de Arabia Saudí ante Argentina en el partido del Grupo C del Mundial, el martes 22 de noviembre de 2022, en Lusail, Qatar. (AP Foto/Ricardo Mazalán)

(AP Foto/Ricardo Mazalán)

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — With a squad full of domestic league players and a French coach, Saudi Arabia’s shocking upset of Lionel Messi and Argentina suddenly put the team in the international spotlight.

A skyscraper in downtown Doha was lit up with the image of Saudi Arabia’s flag Tuesday night as fans throughout the Middle East celebrated the unexpected victory. In London, the Saudi-owned newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat read: “The Green Magicians Defy Expectations.”

So just who are these guys?

While Saudi Arabia, the second lowest-ranked team in the tournament, doesn’t have a big star like Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, many of the players were also part of the squad that went to the 2018 World Cup. But none play outside of their home country.

Saleh Alshehri and Salem Aldawsari became instant national heroes with second-half goals in the 2-1 victory over the Argentines. Both play for Al Hilal in Saudi Arabia’s top league, as does goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais, who preserved the win with a pair of late saves. All three also played in Russia four years ago.

In fact, 12 players on the team’s 26-man roster are with Al Hilal, which has won a record 18 Saudi league championships and is coached by Ramon Diaz of Argentina. Al Nassr boasts six national team players.


Aldawsari scored the winner in the 53rd minute against Argentina, celebrating with a cartwheel and a backflip.

He’s one of the best known players on Saudi Arabia’s squad. While he has played for Al Hilal since 2011, he was briefly loaned to Spanish club Villarreal and made one appearance.

Now he owns one of the nation’s biggest-ever goals, joining Saeed Al-Owairan, who scored the lone goal in a victory over Belgium at the 1994 World Cup.


The Saudi team is led by Renard, a 54-year-old French coach who has jumped around a bunch of national teams.

Before taking over at Saudi Arabia in 2019, he coached Morocco at the 2018 World Cup. He is the only coach to have led two different national teams to African Cup titles: Zambia in 2012 and Ivory Coast three years later.

When Renard was starting his coaching career, he worked as a janitor and eventually opened his own cleaning company.

“When you are coming into a World Cup, you need to believe in yourself. Everything can happen in football. Sometimes the opponent isn’t at their best motivation,” Renard said. “This has happened to us when playing a lower-ranked team. This is what other people don’t understand.”


Al Hilal is one of Asia’s top clubs. Based in Riyadh, the team went to the Club World Cup semifinals in February. But Chelsea beat Al Hilal 1-0 on Romelu Lukaku’s close-range goal in the 32nd minute. Chelsea went on to win the event, beating Palmeiras in the final.


After besting Messi, Saudi Arabia gets a shot at another of the game’s biggest stars, Robert Lewandowski, on Saturday against Poland.

Poland settled for a scoreless draw with Mexico in its Group C opener after Lewandowski’s second-half penalty attempt was stopped by Guillermo Ochoa.

The Green Falcons, currently at the top of the group, wrap up the opening stage on Wednesday against Mexico.


AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Ex-Packer Guion gets 1 year for domestic violence assault

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Former Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion was sentenced to one year in jail after pleading no contest in a domestic violence assault at his home last fall. Brown County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Walsh also ordered Guion on Tuesday to serve three years’ probation and complete a domestic […]

1 year ago

Joe Jarzynka...

Associated Press

Durant eager for Suns debut vs. Hornets after knee injury

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Durant has been through quite a bit during his 15-year NBA career — but joining a new team midway through the season is a new one for the 13-time All-Star. The 34-year-old Durant doesn’t seem all that worried. Durant makes his highly anticipated Phoenix Suns debut on Wednesday night against […]

1 year ago

FILE - Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores stands on the sideline during the second half of an N...

Associated Press

Judge: NFL coach can press discrimination claims in court

NEW YORK (AP) — NFL Coach Brian Flores can pursue some of his discrimination claims against the league and its teams in court rather than through arbitration, a judge ruled Wednesday. The written decision by Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan was issued months after lawyers for the league tried to get the lawsuit moved to […]

1 year ago

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Alex Stalock cools off in the first period during an NHL hockey game ...

Associated Press

Kane trade reinforces hard reality of Blackhawks rebuild

CHICAGO (AP) — After days of speculation, the harsh reality of the Chicago Blackhawks’ situation was reinforced by one move in a flurry of transactions ahead of the NHL trade deadline. Showtime is over, at least in Chicago, and a seemingly bright future is, well, way off in the distance. The reverberations of Chicago’s decision […]

1 year ago

FILE -  Yves Jean-Bart, president of the Haitian Football Federation, wearing a protective face mas...

Associated Press

Disgraced ex-Haitian soccer president announces he’s back

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s former soccer federation president whose lifetime ban from sport over sexual abuse allegations was overturned last month announced Wednesday that he is reclaiming his position. Yves Jean-Bart’s defiant announcement could lead to a standoff with FIFA, which already has appointed an emergency management committee to lead the Haitian Football Association […]

1 year ago

FILE - Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers walks off the field after an NFL football game against the ...

Associated Press

Rodgers says decision on future will come ‘soon enough’

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers says he will make a decision on his future “soon enough” as the four-time MVP quarterback ponders whether to play next season and if his future remains with the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers, 39, discussed his future while speaking on an episode of the “Aubrey Marcus Podcast” that […]

1 year ago

Big upset puts global spotlight on Saudi Arabia’s players