Anwar: We surprised the world in 1994
Fuad Anwar scored Saudi Arabia’s first-ever goal at the World Cup
Midfielder appeared in two editions of the global showpiece
1994 generation considered by many as the best Saudi Arabian team
When Jorge Solari’s Saudi Arabia side arrived in the USA in the summer of 1994 for the FIFA World Cup™, expectations were not especially high given that it was the country’s maiden appearance at the global showpiece.
Against all odds, however, The Green Falcons made history by qualifying for the Round of 16 on their World Cup debut. After losing their opening game to the Netherlands, they recorded their first victory at the finals with a 2-1 defeat of Morocco. They then stunned the footballing world by overcoming Belgium thanks to Saeed al Owairan’s fantastic individual effort, which remains one of the most memorable FIFA World Cup moments.
And although Saudi Arabia took part in four of the next six World Cup editions, their USA 1994 appearance remains the most notable. FIFA.com sat down with Fuad Anwar, the first player to score for Saudi Arabia at the World Cup, and asked him about that historic maiden appearance and why The Green Falcons have been unable to replicate that success in subsequent editions.
FIFA.com: You were one of Saudi Arabia’s top players at the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™. What are your memories of that tournament?
Fuad Anwar: This tournament brings back a lot of pleasant memories given that it was our first appearance at the World Cup. I recall we had an outstanding training camp before the event. Personally, one of my best memories was becoming the first Saudi player to score at the World Cup - against the Netherlands - before I got a second against Morocco. Everyone was impressed by the Saudi team on their debut. No one expected that we’d have quality and experienced players, but we stunned everyone, including our own fans. Despite our country appearing at four subsequent editions, that class of 94 remains the best generation to have represented Saudi Arabia at the global showpiece.
You scored your country’s first World Cup goal in the game against the Netherlands. What are your memories of that strike?
When I watch the goal, I feel very happy as if I’ve just scored it. I think the delirium caused by the goal speaks for itself. I couldn’t believe what had just happened until I reached our goalkeeper Mohamed Al Deayea, and we all celebrated together. Scoring goals is the strikers’ responsibility, so it meant a lot for a defensive midfielder to find the target at the World Cup against a team like the Netherlands. Our performance matched that of the Dutch team. In fact, this fixture would’ve ended in a draw if it weren’t for that mistake from Al Deayea, who also made many great saves it must be said.
After you'd lost your first game, your encounter with Morocco became even more important. How did you deal with that game?
The defeat to the Netherlands didn’t have a negative impact on us. In fact, it gave us a lot of motivation ahead of the subsequent games. All the team officials were happy with our performance, and their faith in us provided renewed impetus before the Morocco game. We knew that a second defeat would’ve ended our qualification hopes, and we won this game [2-1]. Sami Al Jaber put us ahead from the spot, then Morocco equalised, but I managed to score the winner a few minutes before the break.
Your goal against Morocco was a beautiful long-distance strike. What can you tell us about it?
Honestly, that wasn’t the first time I’d scored from that range, either with the national team or in the local league. I had many similar goals in my career, netting many times from these swerving long-range shots. That goal was very important because it came at a big tournament like the World Cup and it gave us a lot of motivation ahead of the Belgium game.
How would you assess the Saudi campaign at the 1994 World Cup?
Our preparation was great and helped us get impressive results. We qualified from a very tough group that included Korea Republic, Korea DPR, IR Iran, Iraq and Japan. We had a month and a half-long training camp in France before we had another one in the USA 45 days before the tournament started. Even though we made the last 16, we could have done better because the game against Sweden was no more difficult than the ones we’d had in the group stage. We were happy to have qualified from our group, and there wasn’t any kind of pressure on us. We went into the game as if the tournament was over for us. Nonetheless, we played very well against a team that ended the tournament in third place.
Four years later, you appeared at France 1998, where the team’s displays were more modest. What do you attribute that to?
In our second appearance at the World Cup, our opponents knew more about us and were better prepared to face us. I remember we had a friendly against England which ended in a draw, and the coaches of the teams we were going to face at the World Cup were all watching from the stands. This shows that lots of people recognised the strength of the Saudi team after the solid performance we put on four years earlier in the US. Our first game was against a strong Denmark side. We played very well but lost by a single goal. We then took on hosts France, who unsurprisingly beat us en route to lifting the trophy. We wanted to win at least one game but could only draw with South Africa in our final fixture.
Having missing out on the 2010 and 2014 editions, Saudi Arabia returned to the finals at Russia 2018. What did you think of their performance at that tournament?
Their results didn’t live up to expectations, especially given the preparations the team made and the support they received. They failed to make an impression, but just being there at the World Cup was important. That said, they did register a victory against a strong Egypt team.
Saudi Arabia’s best result at the World Cup came at USA 1994 when they made the last 16. Why haven’t we seen a repeat of that achievement despite multiple appearances at the finals?
In the past, a lot of attention was given to all age groups. Many outstanding players in Saudi football participated in major tournaments. I myself was part of the team that won the 1989 U-16 World Championship, and I also took part in the 1989 FIFA World Youth Championship, which took place on home soil. More attention should be given to young players, who should take part in major [youth] tournaments. This will in turn help build a strong senior team as was the case in the 1980s and 90s.