Green Falcons aim to fly high

Saudi Arabia are leaving no stone unturned as they prepare to face Australia at AAMI Park at the end of the month.

Saudi Arabia are leaving no stone unturned as they prepare to face Australia at AAMI Park at the end of the month.

The Saudis must secure a result or face the prospect of elimination at the penultimate stage of 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying.

Such an untimely exit would be unpalatable for the proud Saudis who have long been considered the kings of the Gulf region, while also having strong historical claims to be amongst Asia-s elite few.

Saudi Arabia are four-time FIFA World Cup finalists - a record bettered only by Korea Republic across the continent - but recent years have not been so kind to the Green Falcons despite a relatively strong playing roster.

Just over 12 months ago Saudi Arabia bombed out of the AFC Asian Cup at the group stage, while their Brazil 2014 Round Three campaign has yielded just one win from five outings thus far.

Even a point in Melbourne - no easy task given Australia-s strong historical FIFA World Cup record on home soil - will not be enough provided there is a winner in the other Group D match between hosts Oman and Thailand in Muscat.

Disappointing though they have been in recent times the Saudis have the personnel to get the result they need in Melbourne.

The jewel in the crown is one Asia-s foremost creative players, namely Yasser Al Qahtani, a name that was absent from the team sheet when the Qantas Socceroos recorded that impressive win in the Kingdom last September.

The former national team skipper has a glittering CV which ticks all the boxes. Winner of the AFC Player of the Year in 2007 (when Australia hosted the continent-s premier football awards for the only time), top goalscorer at the 2007 AFC Asian Cup and goalscorer when the Saudis last featured on the world stage at the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

Al Qahtani, in contrast to traditional Saudi footballing practise, is also notable for plying his trade outside the nation-s borders. He is currently on loan to big spending United Arab Emirates club Al Ain where he partners Ghana superstar Asamoah Gyan in attack.

Other notables include fellow attackers Naif Hazazi and Nasser Al Shamrani, plus midfielder and skipper Taisir Al Jassim.

The diminutive Al Jassim might be small in stature but the midfield lynchpin is big on heart, with coach Frank Rijkaard bestowing the captain-s armband on the Al Ahli man.

If Al Qahtani-s best days are behind him - and most likely that is not yet the case just yet - then Hazazi is the player of the future. The lithe 23-year-old has ability in the air and on the ground, and is quickly becoming a darling of the Saudi fans.

Al Shamrani, for his part, will be looking to reprise his goal against Australia in Dammam last September. A prolific goalscorer in the Saudi League - he has won multiple top goalscorer crowns - Al Shamrani is the most likely avenue to goal for the Green Falcons at AAMI Park.

The Saudis arrive in Melbourne this week where they will spend the best part of two weeks in preparation. Matches too are planned against a visiting underage New Zealand side.

Such a lengthy period together is a rare luxury for an international coach, but achievable for the Saudis with virtually the entire squad domestically based.

It is a preparation which contrasts markedly with that of the Qantas Socceroos, but if the Saudis do fail to achieve their qualification aim it will not be for want of trying.

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