Asia's greatest national teams: Saudi Arabia 1980-90s | Football News | Asian Qualifiers 2022

23:22 | 01/04/2020

Kuala Lumpur: Over the past few decades, Asian football has produced some iconic national teams. In this series, the-AFC.com looks at some of those generations that shaped the sport in the world’s largest continent.

Kuala Lumpur: Over the past few decades, Asian football has produced some iconic national teams. In this series, the-AFC.com looks at some of those generations that shaped the sport in the world’s largest continent.


When Japan defeated China PR to be crowned continental champions in 2004, that was the first AFC Asian Cup final not to feature Saudi Arabia for 24 years. This incredible stat is perhaps the best testament to how dominant the Green Falcons had been in the last part of the 20th century.

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Since the inception of their national team in 1957, Saudi Arabia lingered in mediocrity throughout the first 25 years of the team’s existence. Bright moments were few and far between, while defeat was the norm. In 1961, they were on the receiving end of their heaviest defeat to date; a 13-0 loss at the hands of the United Arab Republic; a short-lived union between Syria and Egypt.

It wasn’t until the mid-eighties that the Green Falcons had their first foray into the spotlight of Asian football. Led by a 25-year-old Majed Abdullah, Saudi Arabia stunned the continent to snatch the trophy in their first AFC Asian Cup appearance in Singapore 1984 under local coach Khalil Al Zayani.

The same crop of talented footballers repeated the feat four years later in neighbouring Qatar under Carlos Alberto Parreira. Their two consecutive triumphs in the continental competition announced to the world the birth of a new Asian powerhouse. The next decade would see the best of Saudi Arabia on the pitch.

Hiroshima, November 8, 1992. Saleh Al Nuaima, Saleh Khalifa and other key pillars of the 1980s generation had by now retired, making space for youngsters like Fouad Anwar and Fahad Al Bishi; the latter had so far dazzled as the Green Falcons reached the 1992 AFC Asian Cup final, but it was third time unlucky for the Saudis as hosts Japan held out to a Takuya Takagi first-half-goal to clinch the title and stake their own claim to the supremacy of Asia.

Disappointment would make way for greater joy less than two years later. An epic night in Doha saw Saudi Arabia come out on top in an unforgettable seven-goal thriller against Islamic Republic of Iran. The 4-3 victory meant it was the Saudis who would represent Asia in the 1994 FIFA World Cup alongside Korea Republic. The 40,000 fans who had travelled to the Qatari celebrated all night as their team secured a place amongst the world’s best for the first time in their history.

Although Saudi Arabia have since qualified to the FIFA World Cup on four more occasions, USA 94’ would prove to be their best campaign to date. Saeed Al Owairan’s iconic solo goal against Belgium remains one of the finest ever scored on the global stage. Wins over Morocco and Belgium earned the Green Falcons their one and only appearance in the Round of 16, where they were eliminated by Sweden.

Saeed Al-Owairan's goal vs Belgium

Do you remember THAT incredible Saeed Al-Owairan goal from the 1994 FIFA World Cup? ⚽


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