Saudi Arabia's World Cup hopes in hinge on opener vs. Russia - Samy Al Jaber
RIYADH, June 13, 2018 (News Wires) - Sami Al Jaber has played at four World Cups and scored at three. The legend of Saudi Arabian and Asian football was there for the high of 1994 and the low of 2002 and in the days before his country returns to the global stage for the first time in 2006, he is feeling positive about 2018.
Few of the many millions that will be watching the opening game between hosts Russia and the Saudis believe that the West Asian team, which would give plenty for a striker of Al-Jaber's quality, can get out of a group that also contains Uruguay and Egypt.
The 45 year-old, who made almost 150 international appearances, insists that the Greens are on the right track though it remains to be seen whether it will be enough to emulate the second round appearance of 1994.
"We prepared well back in 1994," Al-Jaber told ESPN FC. "We had been moved out of our clubs and had training camps in France and the U.S.
"We believed in ourselves. That is why we wanted to show what who were were because nobody knew. In America, they knew our name just because of the Gulf War but we showed something."
They certainly did. A first-ever World Cup appearance was a tough one, against the Netherlands. After taking a first half lead, Holland came back with two strikes after the break to win 2-1.
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"They had big names and great players. I was young but we sat together as a team and saw it as a challenge. We were playing for our country, our families and our brothers," Al-Jaber said.
"After 15 minutes we were better than them. We controlled everything. We conceded two goals by mistakes but we took this confidence to the second game against Morocco and won."
Then came the memorable game against Belgium -- again a talented team -- and that goal from Saeed Al-Owairan. The Saudi star ran past half of the Belgian side from inside his own half to score and send the Green Falcons into the second round.
"I had played with him and knew what he could do. That goal showed the confidence we had," Al-Jaber recalled.
Then came a 1-0 loss to Sweden.
"It was played in 40 degrees," he said. "We are from a hot country but we don't play during the day.
"They had the perfect strategy. They scored early and made us run after the ball in the heat and that made it difficult."