Goal.com's 13 for '13 Asian Football Countdown: Saudi Arabia

GOAL.com
SPECIAL
By Mohammed Gelil


INTRODUCTION
The past year was a disappointing one for Saudi Arabia, as despite success on the club level the the country's national team failed to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil.

Adding insult to injury, the Green Falcons lost badly in several friendly matches including a 5-0 defeat to Spain. In December, Saudi Arabia's Fifa ranking fell to a record-low 125th that reflected a terrible year for Saudi football.

NATIONAL TEAMS

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2012 started out poorly as Saudi Arabia found themselves eliminated from contention for the 2014 World Cup. Needing a win to progress to the fourth round, Saudi Arabia ended the first half of their February 29 match at Australia with a shocking 2-1 lead. But the Socceroos fought back, scoring three unanswered goals in a four-minute span to allow Oman to capture second place instead.

The Kingdom was further disgraced in a 5-0 and 1-0 losses to Spain and Gabon, although some measure of pride was regained in a scoreless draw against Argentina. The Saudi senior team still ended the year at 126th in the FIFA global rankings following a first-round exit at the West Asian Football Federation championship.

Youth teams outperformed the senior team on the year, with the Under-18s winning the ninth Junior Gulf Cup and the Under-23s winning the Olympic Gulf Cup.

DOMESTIC LEAGUES AND CUPS

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The 2011-2012 Saudi Pro League came down to the wire, with Al Shabab winning the league with just two points to spare. Runners-up Al Ahli had plenty to cheer about after winning the Champion's Cup, while Al Hilal captured the Crown Prince Cup in February.

At the continental level, three Saudi teams made it through to the quarter-finals. Al Ittihad's run ended there, while Al Hilal were defeated in the semi-finals and Al Ahli became the first Saudi side since 2009 to reach the final. They would not become the first Saudi club to capture the ACL since 2005, however, after falling 3-0 to Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea.

PLAYERS ABROAD

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Yasser Al Qahtani returned to represent Al Hilal after a very successful experience with Al Ain UAE. Osama Hawsawi also returned to Al Ahli after failing to break through with Belgian outfit Anderlecht.

Two Saudi plays did have success abroad, with Saleh Al-Sheri and Abdullah Al-Hafith playing for Portugese sides SC Beira-Mar and Pacos de Ferreira respectively. Al-Sheri in particular has two goals in two appearances, including a second-minute strike against Vitoria Guimaraes in late November.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR | Nasser Al Shamrani, Al Shabab and Saudi Arabian National Team

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Al Shabab star Nasser Al Shamrani is Saudi Arabia's player of the year after becoming the Pro League's top scorer for the fourth time in the last five years with 21 goals.

The club's most prominent member led from the front in helping his team to win the league title, and was reported by a Russian newspaper as having a transfer value of €2 million. At 29 years old Al Shamrani has never left the Saudi Pro League, but his continued fine performances for club and country could quite possibly change that.

MOMENT OF THE YEAR | Nekonam's strike against South Korea saves Team Melli

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The low point of Saudi Arabia's year could be described as the Tragedy of Melbourne after the Green Falcons fell 4-2 to Australia in a match that decided their World Cup fate.

First-half goals by Salem Al Dawsari and Nasser Al Shamrani gave the Saudis hope of joining the Socceroos in the fourth and final round as they went into the locker room at half time boasting a 2-1 lead. But an inspiring Australian comeback courtesy of Harry Kewell, Alex Brosque, and Brett Emerton dashed those dreams in a matter of four minutes.

The defensive lapse was devestating for Frank Rijkarrd's men, although the Dutchman continued to remain in charge.

WISHES FOR SAUDI ARABIAN FOOTBALL IN 2013
A win at the 2013 Gulf Cup of Nations in January would restore the prestige of the Kingdom, The Gulf 21 Championship is the most important and the win will restore the prestige of Saudi Arabia as they also look to qualify for the 2015 Asian Cup in a group that includes AFF Suzuki Cup runners-up Thailand.

Four Saudi sides will also again have a chance to contend the Asian Champions League, which kicks off play in February. All will be hoping to represent the country at the Fifa Club World Cup, which will take place in Morocco.

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