Al-Suqour ( I bet you would, boy!), or The Falcons, arrive in Russia as 1500/1 outsiders and the lowest ranked team in the tournament. But can the nation that employs Sergei Rebrov and our own Kevin Sheedy in club management cause a surprise for the hosts in Group A?
Manager: Juan Antonio Pizzi
Famous for being Gerard Butler’s greasy brother and a favourite Championship Manager freebie of yesteryear, I’d personally thought the guy had gone back to live on a ranch, toting a gun and wearing a big silly hat in Argentina until he rocked up in Valencia a few seasons ago. After having made a real cataclysmic f**k up there, failing to qualify for Europe for the first time in donkeys, he resurfaced eighteen months later to become Chile manager, picking up where Jorge “The Orb” Sampaoli had left off in winning the 2016 edition of the Copa América. Was acquired by the Saudis for many gold coins shortly after Bert van Marwijk guided them to Russia, and even more shortly after they disposed of Edgardo Bauza after a whole what embarrassing display in the Gulf Cup of Nations.
Star Player: Nawaf Al-Abed
The Al-Hilal playmaker is quickly becoming one of Asian football’s hottest properties and was pivotal to the Kingdom’s qualification for the finals. Scoring five goals, four of which came from the penalty spot, the men in green will look to him to take the game to opposition defences, not having the luxury of a proven goalscorer up top. A man with what must be enormous testicles.
Record v Ireland: Won (0) Drawn (0) Lost (1)
The week after Keane’s wonder strike beat Khan in Kashima, our Boys in Green had to finish the job off in what was a slippery sort of final group game against the Saudis as they bid to make the last 16, back in 2002. Robbie was on target early to settle nerves, before big Gary Breen and Duffer sealed the victory with second half strikes. The epic and heartbreaking penalty shootout defeat to the Spanish would follow five days later, but Ireland could leave the Far East with their heads held high after the fiasco in Saipan. You can stick that up your bollocks Mick!
Little known fact: The Spanish Experiment
Frustrated at the Premier League’s all conquering domination of television rights in Asia, La Liga had the brainwave in January of encouraging a clutch of Saudi football stars to take the almost unprecedented step of venturing to foreign shores to ply their trade. La Liga called the arrival of the Saudi players in Spain a result of a “rigorous scouting process”. Yeah, for all your oily coin. Of the four players that joined La Liga clubs, as of the start of March they had accumulated a grand total of sweet F.A. in game time.
How will they go?
In what could possibly the scariest game of football ever televised, Russia will host the Saudis in the opening game of the tournament. If there are those of you who are thinking “apocalyptic bloodbath”, know you are not alone. On the field, this may be the men from the middle east’s best chance of registering a point, catching what might be nervous hosts cold, in front of an expectant, and what’s bound to be fervent, home support. Can’t see them coping with Suarez nor Salah in their remaining group games.
Prediction: 4th in Group A