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Roberto Mancini turns to fresh faces as Saudi Arabia step up Asian Cup preparations

Roberto Mancini oversaw a pair of defeats in his first matches as Saudi Arabia head coach. Getty

With the summer season of unprecedented spending out of the way in which and the 2023/24 Saudi Professional League season in full circulation, Saudi Arabia was again in international headlines once more over the previous few days.

Fifa, soccer’s world governing physique, have awarded the 2030 World Cup to Spain, Portugal and Morocco, with video games additionally happening within the South American international locations of Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay to mark the event’s centenary yr.

The choice, coupled with affirmation that the next event in 2034 is about to happen in both Asia or Oceania, introduced the dominion a step nearer to fulfilling its dream of following on the footsteps of Qatar and internet hosting soccer’s premier worldwide soccer competitors.

The Saudi Arabia Soccer Federation (SAFF) claims it has the backing of over 70 international locations, and in addition has the backing of the Asian Soccer Confederation.

A number of thousand miles away within the Portuguese coastal metropolis of Portimao, removed from all of the drama and media highlight, Roberto Mancini’s 31-man squad proceed their preparation for the upcoming Asian Cup with a coaching camp and two pleasant matches in opposition to Nigeria and Mali.

Whereas this will probably be Mancini’s third match in control of the group since his appointment eight weeks in the past, it should, basically, be the primary time he takes with him a squad of his personal choice, having adopted Saudi Professional League matches over the previous few rounds.

September’s internationals got here only some days after the Italian’s appointment, and he oversaw a squad largely based mostly on the final one inherited from his predecessor Herve Renard. Mancini misplaced each matches; to Costa Rica 3-1 then to South Korea 1-0.

Forward of the Nigeria match on Friday, Mancini will probably be trying to reply some urgent questions by way of group alternatives, with just one extra worldwide window left earlier than the Inexperienced Falcons tackle Oman, Thailand and Kyrgyzstan in Group F of the Asian Cup in January.

In objective, Al Nassr’s 23-year-old keeper Nawaf Al Aqidi has emerged as one of many Saudi Professional League’s rising stars, establishing himself as the one home-grown goalkeeper beginning week-in, week-out.

Regardless of some combined performances, Al Aqidi stays Mancini’s first alternative. His important competitors comes from veteran Mohammed Al Owais, who began all of Saudi Arabia’s video games on the 2022 World Cup. The 32-year-old has not began a league sport for his membership aspect Al Hilal for the reason that arrival of Moroccan worldwide Yassine ‘Bono’ Bounou however stays extremely rated.

The distinctive defensive report of Al Ittihad – six clear sheets of their 9 league outings to this point – noticed defenders Hassan Kadesh and Zakaria Hawsawi rewarded by Mancini with call-ups.

The latter, simply 22, can set up himself as long-term substitute for 31-year-old Yasser Al Shahrani who had been occupying the left-back spot for practically a decade with out a lot competitors.

Al Hilal midfielder Abdulelah Al Malki, 29, was a shock inclusion within the squad, having not performed first-team soccer since struggling an damage in the course of the World Cup practically a yr in the past.

Saud Abdulhamid on the attack for Saudi Arabia during their friendly defeat against South Korea. Reuters

Saud Abdulhamid on the assault for Saudi Arabia throughout their pleasant defeat in opposition to South Korea. Reuters

He’s prone to function a task mannequin for youthful gamers corresponding to Ali Hazazi who has impressed at Al Ettifaq below Steven Gerrard, complementing the qualities of Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum in a midfield three.

One other teen, Eid Al Muwallad, created historical past by turning into the primary participant from Al Okhdood to be referred to as up for the nationwide group.

Al Muwallad, 22, is a combative and tenacious operator, who has excelled in breaking apart opposition assaults as his membership aspect navigated their first few weeks of their first season enjoying within the Saudi high flight.

Faisal Al Ghamdi, one of the vital thrilling younger midfielders in Saudi Arabia, receives his probability weeks after finishing a transfer from Al Ettifaq to Al Ittihad and captaining the nationwide group of their Beneath-23 Asian Cup qualifiers.

Up entrance, Firas Al Buraikan, one other teen who made an enormous cash transfer this summer season after becoming a member of Al Ahli from Al Fateh, is in line to start out because of his 5 league objectives to this point, however he’ll nonetheless must see off competitors from Al Hilal duo Abdullah Al Hamdan and Saleh Al Shehri.

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