Saudi Arabia
© AFC

The past
Saudi Arabia enter the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia seeking to make history by reaching the knockout stage for the first time. One of the most successful teams in Asia, the Saudis have won the AFC U-19 Championship twice, representing their continent at the tournament five times. However, the team’s appearances on the world stage have been disappointing, failing to progress beyond the group stage on each occasion. They raised eyebrows in their debut at USSR 1985, holding Spain to a goalless draw before scraping past Republic of Ireland by a solitary-goal. Losing to Brazil 1-0 in the closing group game proved costly as they were edged out by the Spanish for a place in the last eight on goal difference..

The present
Under coach Khalid Al Koroni, Saudi Arabia reached Colombia 2011 after finishing in the top four at the AFC U-19 Championship in China. In doing so, the team atoned for their failed qualification effort two years ago, in which they bowed out in the quarter-finals losing to the United Arab Emirates. Their campaign to reach Colombia 2011 started difficultly, as the west Asians lost 3-1 to hosts China. The Saudis bounced back in their remaining outings, managing two 1-0 triumphs over Thailand and Syria to progress into the last eight. In the quarter-final clash against Uzbekistan, Al Koroni’s team came from behind to win 2-1 after extra time and secure their passage to South America.

The future
Coach Al Koroni has done an excellent job of moulding a number of talented hopefuls into a well-organised team. Their strengths lie in midfield, where Abdullah Otayf pulls the strings in both attack and defence. The gifted No14 was instrumental in their decisive victory over Uzbekistan, equalising in the closing stages to force extra time, where they went on to prevail courtesy of Fahad Al Johani's winning goal. However, goalscoring remains a major concern for the Saudis, who were outgunned by Australia 2-0 in their semi-final meeting.

"Our football is to keep the ball, maintain possession of the ball in the middle and to always protect our goal," Al Koroni said. "Otayf is an all-round player and plays a key role in both attacking and defending. The qualifying tournament has given our players plenty of experience that will be good for our future. The players have shown their potential to play at higher levels with the Olympic team and national senior team."