Amid the excitement of Saudi Arabia’s FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011 Group D opening game against Croatia at Armenia’s Estadio Centenario, one young player stood out from the rest. With his distinctive shaved head and outstanding performance, midfield sensation Maan Khodary really caught the eye, wreaking havoc in a beleaguered Croatian defence with his pinpoint passing and tactical awareness.
It came as no surprise then to find that the young Khodary models himself on Argentina superstar Juan Sebastian Veron, right down to the shaved hair, which he unveiled to surprised teammates on the eve of the game.
Speaking to FIFA.com Khodary explains that this radical change in his personal appearance is something he likes to do before major tournaments: “It’s my habit to shave all my hair off before any big competition. It dates back to my time in the U-17 team, plus the fact that my dad always believes I’m going to play better when I look like that!”
Though a midfielder by trade, the 19-year-old began the Croatia encounter in defence before moving up the field in the second half, stamping his presence on the game and helping create the two late goals that brought Saudi Arabia a valuable three points.
“Before the match the coach asked me to play in defence, so I did,” said Khodary. “By the time Mustafa Al Bassas came on in the second half I was moving forward, contributing to the attack and creating chances.”
Khodary attributes much of his success at club level to the experience he has gained playing alongside Al Ittihad team-mate and Saudi Arabia international Saud Kariri, currently rated one of the best defensive midfielders in Asia.
“Saud Kariri is one of the top pros in Saudi Arabia and Asia. I’ve learned a lot playing with him at Al Ittihad and I’ll keep drawing on his experience in the future,” the teenager said.
In addition to his skill on the pitch, the fledgling midfield maestro displays a modesty and maturity beyond his years when talking about his own role in Saudi’s success. “Sure, I put on a good performance in the match, but it was as much by the grace of God and my team-mates’ efforts that we managed to dictate the course of the game and keep the crowd on our side. We’ll be treating the next one against Guatemala as if it were a tournament opener. Our job’s not done yet and we have to give our all out there on the pitch.”
Asked about the powerful Nigeria side that defeated Guatemala 5-0 on Sunday, Khodary remained unruffled: “We’re not thinking about Nigeria at the moment – it’s about the next game right now. Only when that’s done will we start preparing for the final match, by which time we’ll hopefully be in a position to go further.”
Whether or not Khodary and Co make it to Bogota’s Estadio El Campin for the FIFA U-20 World Cup final on 20 August, one thing is certain: memories of the Saudi Veron will live long in the minds of Armenia’s football fans.