With Al Ittihad just a step away from the final of Asia’s premier club competition, and Saudi Arabia facing the task of getting their 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ campaign back on track after a disappointing loss to Australia, the formidable playmaking talent of Mohammed Noor will be central to their plans. The 33-year-old veteran is no stranger to the pressures of big matches, but the challenges ahead are the without doubt the biggest of his career.
In Noor, Jeddah-based giants Al Ittihad have a gem whose skills and vision on the pitch are unselfishly placed at the disposal of the team. Strategically brilliant in the centre of the park, the Tigers’ captain is just as comfortable coming forward and has rattled the back of the net against opposition of all levels. Reassuring and inspiring in equal measure, it is no exaggeration to speak of the six-foot Noor as the team’s talisman.
This season, though, he will be tested to the limit. Al Ittihad are committed to claiming the Saudi Professional League title they last won in 2009, and on 26 October they take on the formidable Jeonbuk Motors in the AFC Champions league semi-final hoping to erase memories of last year’s final when they lost 2-1 to another South Korean outfit, Pohang Steelers.
Noor scored his team’s only goal in that encounter, and he will draw on that experience and the knowledge that Al Ittihad won the tournament two years running in 2004 and 2005 as they look to claim the trophy and book a berth at December's FIFA Club World Cup. Noor’s position has remained clear throughout the AFC Champion’s League campaign.
He said: “Al Ittihad have what it takes to dominate Asia. We might not have gelled as completely as we’d like but we know how to work hard and play with enthusiasm. There is only one goal at the end of the day and that’s the trophy.”
Noor has another reason for wanting his team to make it through to the final. He needs to add three goals to his current tally of 16 to become the all-time highest goal scorer in the AFC Champions League.
A Saudi star
Fans of the Saudi Arabia national team had high hopes when Noor was named captain in July prior to the second round of Asian preliminary qualifiers for Brazil 2014. Their confidence was soon repaid, as the Gulf nation recorded an 8-0 aggregate win over Hong Kong over two legs. The attacking midfielder was expected to be a central component of new Dutch coach Frank Rijkaard’s plans, but in a surprise move, the Dutchman left Noor out of the side that started the third round of qualifiers. Despite the two poor results that followed, a goalless draw against Oman and a 3-1 defeat to Australia, the coach refused to back down and reconsider.
Noor’s stellar start to the domestic season with Al Ittihad proved decisive, however, and Rijkaard was left with little choice but to recall him. This recent history leaves Noor with much to prove to the fans and coach alike, but he has always thrived on such challenges. Two tough games against Thailand await, but with so much at stake the calming presence of Saudi Arabia’s finest player will surely prove invaluable.
Experience is something Noor has in spades, garnered from a long career at domestic and international level. He has played in a number of top-flight competitions for his country, starting with the FIFA Confederations Cup in 1999 and taking in two FIFA World Cup appearances at Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany 2006. International honours include two Gulf Cup of Nations triumph and an Arab Nations Cup.
However, the cornerstone of his success has been his 13 years at Al Ittihad with whom he has won almost every title going. Top of the list are the two AFC Champions Leagues, an Asian Cup Winners’ Cup, six Saudi league titles and silverware from a range of domestic competitions.