- Sami Al Jaber is one of the finest forwards Saudi Arabia has ever produced
- A prominent member of the side at four FIFA World Cup™ competitions
- Al Jaber: "The current generation deserves its place at Russia 2018"
Sami Al Jaber called time on his long international career on 23 June 2006, a day after his Saudi Arabia team lost to Spain and exited the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ having finished bottom of their group.
Not only was that match Al Jaber’s last with the Green Falcons, it was also their last World Cup outing to date, with the Saudis missing out on the following two world finals before qualifying for Russia 2018 last year.
Almost 12 years on from scoring the last of his world finals goals, Al Jaber spoke to FIFA.com about his World Cup memories and what Russia 2018 means to Saudi Arabia’s players.
FIFA.com: What memories do you have of your four World Cups?
Sami Al Jaber: I remember everything from 1994 onwards. I'm very proud to have appeared at four World Cups in a row. Playing in the competition is a unique experience because there are millions of people watching you. In 1994, if you'd asked the American people to talk about Saudi Arabia they wouldn't have known what to say. Football is a very quick way of getting yourself known.
The world finals after that were amazing. I was lucky enough to score at a few World Cups and to become an iconic player in Saudi Arabia. There are a lot of talented players in my country but there aren't many who've scored in a World Cup. I have vivid memories of each of those competitions.
Which match stands out most of all in your career?
The one against Tunisia at the Allianz Arena in Munich in 2006, a game I scored in. It came 12 years after my first World Cup appearance. God gave me a wonderful gift in allowing me to end my career by repeating the achievement.
When I went through one-on-one against the keeper, I saw my whole life as a footballer flash before my eyes. That goal allowed me to end my career on a high note, before I announced my retirement.
Following your last international appearance in 2006, Saudi Arabia had to wait until last year before making their return to the World Cup. Why do you think it has taken so long?
I think we had a handover from one generation to the next after 2006 and there was some instability too. The current generation deserved to qualify, though I think half the players will be contesting their last World Cup.
The average age is a little over 28 and I can't see this generation making it to the next World Cup. Some of the younger players will have an opportunity to show what they can do and earn a move to Europe. Mohamed Salah has shown that the door to Europe’s leagues is open for players from the Arab nations that have qualified for the World Cup.
Three things you need to know about Al Jaber’s international career:
- Won 156 caps for Saudi Arabia and scored 46 goals
- His international career lasted 13 years and 285 days
- Played at four World Cups, scoring three goals in all, the first of them against Morocco at USA 1994
What kind of impact will having a new coach have on the team? And what’s your view on Juan Antonio Pizzi taking over?
He's a great man and a good coach. He picked up some solid experience with Chile at the Copa America and the Confederations Cup last year. We don't have players like [Alexis] Sanchez and [Arturo] Vidal in Saudi Arabia. The competition you get at the World Cup is a lot tougher than in our national league.
Pizzi has brought in an excellent fitness coach who worked at Valencia, and the players should be up to the job because the domestic league is not good enough if you want to have the fitness you need for the World Cup. I should know all about that.
What's your view on Saudi Arabia's group?
We've been very lucky because it's the first time that we're going to play in the Opening Match of a World Cup. Millions of people will be watching to see how Saudi Arabia get on after such a long absence. It's a match I'd really love to play in.
It won't be easy to take on Russia in Moscow, what with the president there and all the fans, but it'll be a unique occasion. That match could be a first step towards qualification for the second round or just an unforgettable memory.