The 14th Asian Cup started on Saturday in Thailand with an opening ceremony that had to be cut short due to bad weather conditions. You can find out the results of the first few days of the tournament here, but what I want to focus on in this post is the chances of the Saudi team. Looking back at history, it is obvious that Saudi Arabia is always a favourtie to win the Cup. Since 1984, the Green Falcons were always present at the final match of the tournament, except for the last Asian Cup in China, where the team produced some forgettable performances leaving in the group stage.
Saudi Arabia will start their Asian campaign today when they face rivals South Korea in a classic continental clash. Saudis have always enjoyed the upper hand when they met Koreans in the past, including winning home and away in the 2006 World Cup qualifiers. Last time the two teams met in the Asian Cup was in 2000 in Lebanon, where Saudis won 2-1 in the smei-final thanks to a double by Talal al-Misha’al.
However, and despite their glorious history in Asia, it is definitely not easy to expect the outcome of the Saudi team. This is mainly due to the fact that Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) likes to change managers very often. The current manager, a “third-class” Brazilian called Helio dos Anjos, has been with the team for only a few months, and it was very obvious from his squad selection that he could not learn much about Saudi players during the brief time he spent in the country. After a long and exhausting local season, Anjos had to take more than 30 players to Turkey in order to get to know them better, only to leave two of his most important players out of the tournament.
Now I honestly cannot, and will not, tell you what I think of the manager because we are yet to see him in a true competition, and the few friendlies the team have played are not much of indication. But based in previous experiences, I find myself very skeptical that they will repeat what they have done in 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, and 2000. Probably it won’t be disastrous as it was in 2004, but I think we should be happy if they could advance to the knock-out stage.
Expect more posts about the tournament in the coming days…