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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Second-string Saudi Arabia side crushed by Peru ahead of 2018 World Cup

Only hours before manager Juan Antonio Pizzi announces squad, his side lose 3-0 in penultimate preparation match before opener against Russia on June 14

Midfielder Salem Al Dawsari, left, is likely to be a key player for Saudi Arabia at the World Cup. Fabrice Coffrini / AFP
Midfielder Salem Al Dawsari, left, is likely to be a key player for Saudi Arabia at the World Cup. Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

In a slick video posted to Twitter in the early hours of Monday morning, Saudi Arabia announced their final 23-man squad for this month’s Fifa World Cup. Similar to the video released by the English FA last week, it delivers the much-awaited news while showcasing the various faces and cultures of the country.

A date farmer calls the name of Tayser Al Jassem. Hattan Bahebri’s name is scribbled onto a Starbucks-style iced coffee. A young boy scores on a video game with Mohammed Al Sahlawi. A man being given a wet shave overhears the barber say Abdulmalek Al Khaibri.

Within four hours of posting, the video had been watched almost one million times and prompted around 600 comments, the majority of which complimented the Saudi Arabian Football Federation for their artistry.

Yet while the Saudis may celebrate creativity on Twitter, it has been hard to come by on the pitch in recent months.

Only a few hours before Juan Antonio Pizzi announced his squad, the manager had watched his side lose 3-0 to Peru in their penultimate preparation match before the World Cup opener against Russia on June 14.

Saudi Arabia squad announcement

England squad announcement

The Argentine had selected numerous fringe players. But while it provided him a final chance to run an eye over them, it made for a disorganised, error-strewn performance in which Saudi struggled to find any sort of rhythm.

Watford’s Andre Carrillo opened the scoring in the 20th minute with a sumptuous volley after calamitous defending on the edge of the penalty area. Then, shortly before half time, Abdullah Al Mayouf spilled a shot from Edison Flores and Paolo Guerrero, the Peruvian captain returning after an eight-month absence related to an ongoing doping case, pounced quickest to double the lead.

Midway through the second half, Guerrero added his second, thumping a close-range header downwards after being found completely unmarked by Carrillo.

Saudi looked for all intents and purposes the second-string team that they were with their first and only shot on target coming in the 86th minute. Substitute Mohammed Al Kuwaykibi found space in the penalty area, but his effort was blocked by the goalkeeper.

Al Kuwaykibi, the 23-year-old midfielder who plies his trade with Al Ettifaq, has been used sparing by Pizzi and was one of the five players cut from Pizzi’s squad. While his omission along with goalkeeper Assaf Al Qarni and defender Mohammed Jahfali were widely expected, the decision to leave out right-back Saeed Al Mowalad and playmaker Nawaf Al Abed was more of a surprise.

Al Hilal winger Al Abed was crucial during World Cup qualifying, scoring five goals from midfield and showing an inventiveness incomparable to his teammates. He was also instrumental in leading Hilal to last year’s Asian Champions League final.

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Read more:

World Cup Group A: Russia under pressure, and will Mohamed Salah be fit for Egypt?

Returns of Guerrero and Al Abed boost Peru and Saudi Arabia ahead of World Cup

Saudi Arabia's football players to fast intermittently during World Cup preparation

2018 World Cup predictions: Winners, losers, top-scorers and players to watch

Lowdown: Where to watch World Cup matches in Abu Dhabi and kick-off times

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Saudi Arabia manager Juan Antonio Pizzi picked a second-string side against Peru. Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters
Saudi Arabia manager Juan Antonio Pizzi picked a second-string side against Peru. Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters

A niggling groin injury, however, required surgery in January and, having struggled to recover, his appearance against Peru was his first under Pizzi. Selected to start, he told staff pre-match that he did not feel 100 per cent and was dropped to the bench, coming on instead as a 68th-minute substitute.

Given Al Abed is regarded as one of the most creative players in Asia, it had been expected he would be selected regardless. Pizzi, however, values stamina immensely and the 28-year-old player’s fitness was ultimately deemed insufficient.

Now the creative responsibility falls largely at the feet of Salem Al Dawsari.

In the video, the Villarreal winger's inclusion is announced by a medic awakening a patient from sleep - he will be hoping he can have a similar effect on Saudi’s beleaguered attack.

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