Even before qualifying for the WC, but especially afterwards, Saudi’s sport-related exposure is huge.
According to FIFA, Saudi just announced a 28-man provisional squad for the WC, which will conduct a 19-day camp in Switzerland, before a final 23-man squad lists will be published by FIFA on 4 June.
“In their final friendly matches during the camp, Saudi will meet Italy, Peru and Germany in international outings ahead of Russia 2018,” said FIFA.
Coach Pizzi will be looking closely at his Spanish-based trio Fahad Al Muwallad, Salem Al-Dawsari and Yahya Al-Shehri who were among the nine players sent on loan to Spain in January in order to gain some much needed international experience and exposure, according to ESPN.
Arab News said the presence of international figure Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had a positive impact on the team.
But is Saudi aiming to dominate the sport?
Saudi: Sport’s biggest power brokers
The Strait Times said that FIFA is facing three major decisions in the coming weeks and months, and Saudi Arabia is positioning itself as one of the most powerful influencers in each of them.
1-Foremost is the vote on the 2026 World Cup hosts.
2-There is also a proposal to expand the 2022 World Cup to 48 teams.
3- Finally, Fifa has to decide how to proceed in ongoing negotiations with investors who are offering as much as $33.5 billion for two new football tournaments that could reshape the existing landscape of club and international events.
Saudi Arabia, which has qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 2006, is among the biggest investors in the consortium that has offered the potential windfall to FIFA.
“Leaders of the North American bid for the 2026 World Cup, including Carlos Cordeiro, president of US Soccer, travelled to the Middle Eastern country recently to make a pitch to leaders of a dozen national federations after Saudi Arabia created a new regional bloc earlier this month-the South West Asian Football Federation,” said the daily.
“The country has also considered starting a major regional sports network, and Saudi executives have signed long-term deals with wrestling franchise WWE and the Formula E motor racing series.”
Until the recent developments, Saudi Arabia’s influence in football has been largely marginal
Yes, but who’s winning the World Cup?
UBS Global Wealth Management’s Chief Investment Office (CIO) uses econometric tools, usually applied to assess investment opportunities, to predict the winner of this year’s football World Cup (WC).
Their simulations indicated no country has higher odds of winning the tournament than Germany, leading the table with a likelihood of 24 percent.
Brazil and Spain also stand a good chance of lifting the trophy, with chances of 19.8 and 16.1 percent respectively.
Russia which spent an estimated $12 billion on infrastructure and related projects in preparation of the games has a 1.6% chance of winning it all.
What about our 4 Arab teams? How will they do?
Morocco has a chance
Morocco, FIFA ranking 42 was given a 0.1% chance of winning it all by UBS CIO, and is the only one out the 4 Arab teams given any chance at all.
Morocco is appearing in its fifth WC finals, but their first since the 1998 edition in France, according to Reuters.
They picked up a first point at the 1970 tournament in Mexico and then in 1986 became the first African country to get past the opening round when they topped a group ahead of England, Poland and Portugal, before narrowly getting beaten by West Germany in the last 16.
Current coach Herve Renard is regarded as having a firm disciplinary hand but also allowing free-flowing football.
“Morocco won the African Nations Championship which the country hosted in January and qualified by not conceding a goal in finishing top of Group C in the African preliminaries,” said Reuters.
They are in Group B with Portugal, Spain and Iran, the latter a team they face June 15 in St Petersburg.
Saudi:Chance for second place
UBS gives Saudi no chance to win it all and only a 0.1% chance of finishing as tournament runner-ups
Saudi’s FIFA ranking is 67 and the country is appearing at its first World Cup finals since 2006, when they exited at the end of the group phase of the competition for the third consecutive WC times.
The Kingdom’s best WC showing was at their debut qualification for the event when they reached the round of 16 in the US in 1994 after a 1-0 win over Belgium, according to Reuters.
Their coach is Argentinian Juan Antonio Pizzisince, who was appointed in late November 2017 after Dutchman Bert van Marwijk’s contract was not renewed despite leading the team to the WC finals tournament.
The opening game against Russia is key for the rest of their campaign, while the meeting with Arab rivals Egypt will be among the most keenly followed matches in the Middle East, according to Reuters which added, “a first-round exit is most likely.”
Egypt: Not on top of the pyramid
UBS gives Egypt zero chance of winning it all, and only a 0.2% chance of playing in the final only to lose.
With a FIFA ranking of 46, Reuters said that Egypt’s dominance of African football “has long been at odds with the country’s dire underachievement at the World Cup but the ‘Pharaohs’ head to Russia with the chance of putting right decades of crushing disappointment.”
Egypt won the African Nations Cup seven times but has qualified for only two previous WCs, in 1934 and 1990, both times without a game.
Egypt has hopes to go deep in this year’s tournament especially that Egyptian forward, Liverpool star, Mohamed Salah presents a formidable challenge in their group when Egypt faces Uruguay, Saudi and hosts Russia.
“Mohamed Salah has enjoyed a stellar season for Liverpool, scoring 44 goals in 51 appearances, leading to comparisons with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Salah, named the PFA and Football Writers’ Association player of the year, has scored 33 goals in 57 appearances for Egypt,” said Reuters.
Appointed in 2015, 62-year-old Argentine Coach Hector Cuper spent a decade managing clubs in Spain and Italy, including Inter Milan and Valencia, whom he led to two Champions League finals, according to Reuters.
Tunisia: Highest ranked among Arab teams
Even with a FIFA ranking of 23, with top teams like Uruguay (22) and Holland (21) with a better ranking, UBS still gave them no chance of winning the tournament, and only a 0.3% of ending as runner ups.
The country won Group A in African qualifying, finishing one point above Congo.
Skysports said Tunisia first qualified in 1978 before appearing in three straight tournaments in 1998, 2002 and 2006, but failed to progress from any of their groups.
“Tunisia have drawn one game and lost two in each of their last three World Cup group-stage campaigns,” said Skysports.
Tunisia’s only win at the World Cup happened to be their first ever game at the finals in 1978, beating Mexico 3-1 in Argentina.
They are in Group G at the WC and face England in their June 18 matchup at Volgograd, and later face Belgium and Panama.