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Saudi Arabia (KSA)
Pride of the Gulf
With five appearances in a row in the final of the Asian Cup since 1984, yielding a record-equalling three titles, Saudi Arabia have been the continent's leading light for the last 20 years. Qualifying for their third consecutive FIFA World Cup finals has cemented their position as the Persian Gulf's top football nation of recent years.
The nation's high point undoubtedly came in 1994 when they qualified for the World Cup finals in the United States, becoming the first Asian team to reach the second round since North Korea's heroic performance in England in 1966. Four years later, and with expectations running high, the Saudis fell short of their quarter-final target, losing to Denmark and France before salvaging a point in their final match against South Africa.
Saudi Arabia's success is all the more remarkable given the nation's revolving door policy regarding coaches. Since Eduardo Vingada guided the Saudis to the Asian Cup title in the United Arab Emirates in 1996, there have been no fewer than eight changes of head coach, with Otto Pfister and Nasser Al Johar both holding the position twice.
Expectations are sure to be high again, especially with the return of Asian Player of the Year Nawaf Al Temyat to the side, who missed qualifying due to a serious knee injury.
Qualification - Sleepless Arabian nights
Saudi Arabia's qualification for Korea/Japan could not have been more dramatic. Needing to win their last game against Thailand and hope Bahrain could defeat Group A leaders Iran, Nasser Al Johar's side went through as their Arab neighbours did them a massive favour, beating Iran 3-1 as the Saudis won 4-1 against Peter Withe's Thais.
The Saudis had a poor start to the final stage of the campaign, drawing with Bahrain in Riyadh and then losing to the Iranians in Tehran, results that ended the short reign of Slobodan Santrac as head coach. Al Johar returned, however, to take the Saudis back to the top of the group to become the first Arab nation to qualify for three World Cups in a row.
Significant past players:
Al Owairan Saeed, Majed Abdullah, Youssef Al Thuniyan
-- Champion Asian Cup 1984, 1988, 1996
-- Runner-up Asian Cup 1992, 2000
-- Winner FIFA World Youth (U17) Championship 1989
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