- Abdulelah Alamri the hero as Saudi Arabia reach last 16
- The Saudis equal their best ever performance on their eighth appearance in the competition
- The centre-half is hungry for more: “We can win and go far”
No sooner had the first half of their final group match against USA come to an end than the entire Saudi Arabia squad assembled in the middle of the pitch. Trailing 1-0 at the time, the Saudis were on their way out of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017, a situation that they responded to by forming a huddle. Giving the team talks were goalkeeper Almin Albukhari and team captain Sami Alnaji, and they ended with the players all making a vow.
“We got together and said to ourselves that we had to play as a team, that we had to fight if we wanted to go further in the competition,” said Abdulelah Alamri, the man who would prove their hero in the second half, in conversation with FIFA.com.
Down to ten men following the dismissal of their leading central defender Cameron Carter-Vickers, USA held on to their lead until 17 minutes from time, at which point Alamri rose unchallenged at the near post to power an unstoppable header past Jonathan Klinsmann and into the roof of the net.
“It’s the type of move we always practice in training,” said the No5, who expressed his gratitude for Alnaji’s pinpoint corner-kick.
Though they lost their opening match against Senegal, the Saudis turned in an excellent performance to defeat Ecuador. In then grabbing a draw against the Americans in Daejeon, they made up for what they might lack in star quality by playing to their strengths. In doing so, Saad Alshehri’s charges have equalled the country’s run to the last 16 at Colombia 2011, their best finish in their seven previous appearances in the competition.
“We’ve got great team spirit and we really work hard together on the pitch,” added their goal hero. “We’re a tight-knit unit and we’re pretty good on the break. It’s the style of play we’re most comfortable with because we’ve got some very fast players up front.”
The Saudis’ thorough preparations for Korea Republic 2017, which saw them play ten warm-up matches in all, and the positive approach of their young coach, Saad Al Shehri, are bearing fruit. “We shouldn’t be satisfied with just taking part or reaching the knockout stages,” Al Shehri told FIFA.com before the tournament got underway. “We’re going to instil a winning mindset in the players and convince them that they’re capable of beating anyone.”
His message seems to be getting through to the players. “The coach fills us with confidence. He makes us believe in ourselves,” said Alamri, who then expressed his gratitude for his side’s progress: “I want to thank God, the coaching staff and the doctor for helping us get through the last 16.”
Next up for the Green Falcons are Uruguay. Despite the pedigree of their next opponents, the Saudis’ man of the moment believes they have every chance: “I think the team’s going to get better with every game. Uruguay are a very good side but we really believe we can win and go far.”