Frank Rijkaard: The wily boss of the Green Falcons

Frank Rijkaard is the legend in charge of the current Saudi side. A success as a player and manager his toughest challenge yet may be getting the Saudi's a win in Australia and making sure they get through to the next stage of FIFA World Cup qualifying.

The career of Saudi Arabia coach Frank Rijkaard is as successful as it has been colourful.

The legendary Dutchman has achieved much, initially as an all-action midfielder schooled at one of the world-s great football institutions, Ajax Amsterdam, and in latter years as a coach with his native Holland, and then in the rarefied air that is the coaches dug-out at Barcelona.

Now, in his 50th year, Rijkaard must conjure another major feat, albeit one of only 90 minutes duration.

Saudi Arabia visit Melbourne-s AAMI Park on February 29 knowing that only victory will guarantee that their 2014 FIFA World Cup ambitions stay afloat.

A draw in the other Group D match between Oman and Thailand in the afternoon heat of Muscat could mean a narrow escape for the Saudis, but the margins are too tight to focus on anything other than victory in Melbourne.

Saudi Arabia have long been considered the aristocrats of football in the Gulf, and indeed in west Asia, but while these are relatively lean times for the four-time FIFA World Cup finalists, early elimination is quite simply unthinkable.

Demands are high and coaching changes frequent, as evidenced by the Saudis making a replacement to the No1 seat on the bench during the midst of last year-s AFC Asian Cup campaign.

Combined with Australia-s proud World Cup record on home soil - only one defeat in 31 years - the pressure on Rijkaard and his charges is indeed sizeable.

But Rijkaard knows a thing or two about working under pressure… and delivering.

Like a number of his contemporaries, Rijkaard is of Surinamese extraction, and along with Ruud Gullit, he became a poster boy for the many whose descendents hailed from the South American Dutch colony.

His playing career commenced in the youth system at Ajax - arguably the globe-s finest centre of football learning - before a successful and lengthy spell in the senior team of the Amsterdam club.

Rijkaard-s international profile went stratospheric with a move to AC Milan, where the Rossoneri were kings in a league considered by many to be the best in the world at that time.

Here Rijkaard was transformed into a midfielder, from his previous position in the centre of defence, where he combined with compatriots Gullit and prolific goal supremo Marco Van Basten. The Dutch trio-s battle for domestic supremacy against Inter Milan-s triumvirate of German stars - Lothar Matthaeus, Jurgen Klinsmann and Andreas Brehme - is an enduring image from the era.

The international arena proved equally successful for Rijkaard as a new generation of Dutch stars redressed the narrow failure of the Oranje-s Total Football sides of the 1970s, by being crowned European champions in 1988.

Rijkaard featured in two FIFA World Cups but an infamous exchange with Germany striker Rudi Voller, which led to the dismissal of both players, was part of a relatively gloomy Italia 90 for the Euro champions.

Fours year later proved an altogether happier experience with Holland topping their group only to be edged out in an epic quarter-final against eventual winners Brazil. It was the Oranje-s best finish since reaching the Final in 1978, and for Rijkaard it helped erase the unpleasant stain on his World Cup copybook from four years previously.

Somewhat coincidently, in an era that saw Asia granted few qualification berths to the World Cup, the campaign at USA 1994 commenced with a win over Saudi Arabia. Rijkaard exposed first hand to the west Asians rapid development as the Dutch narrowly avoided a shock result by grabbing a winner four minutes from full time.

Rijkaard concluded his playing days at Ajax, having been the prototype modern football with his game including athleticism, leadership, technical skills and a classic Dutch ability to fill several positions on the field.

Having hung up his boots the next challenge Rijkaard set himself was to be a leader off the field.

Remarkably Rijkaard-s first senior coaching role was that of national team boss, such was the esteem in which he is held in his native land.

The rare double that is European glory as both a player and as a coach seemed on the cards at EURO 2000. However, despite home support, the Netherlands missed out on a meeting with France in the final after Italy somehow prevailed on penalties in a remarkable game, reminiscent of the Socceroos match-up against Iran in 1997 for its unrewarded one-sided nature.

Club success followed during a five-year stint at Barcelona, with Rijkaard putting in place the foundations of the current great Blaugrana side.

Next came a less successful period at Turkish super club Galatasaray, in a stint that coincided with Harry Kewell and Lucas Neill's time on the Bosphorus, before Rijkaard linked with Saudi Arabia in mid-2011.

During his playing days Rijkaard worked under some of the greatest names ever to coach including Arrigo Sacchi, Guus Hiddink, Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff.

It-s fair to say Frank Rijkaard has more than enough experience, guile and know-how in his back pocket. How much that comes into play at AAMI Park on the final day of February could be a key factor in determining Saudi success against the Socceroos, and with it, World Cup survival.

Will Rijkaard bring the right tactics to Australia and help his team cause an upset? Have your say below