'Beginning of new Arab era in football': UAE, GCC residents say historic Saudi World Cup win inspires hope

Fans speak about how the victory will change the mindset of regional teams


Lamya Tawfik

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Saudi Arabia fans celebrate after their team's win against Argentina. –Reuters
Saudi Arabia fans celebrate after their team's win against Argentina. –Reuters

Published: Wed 23 Nov 2022, 4:41 PM

Last updated: Wed 23 Nov 2022, 5:16 PM

Following the festivities and celebrations that swept the region after Saudi Arabia's victory over Argentina at the Fifa World Cup on Tuesday, many Arabs felt joy mixed with a healthy dose of hope.

Speaking to Khaleej Times, Dalia Kaki, a Saudi citizen living in Dubai believes that all the changes happening in the Kingdom were fundamental for this win. “There’s a new, young, spirit. One that tells them to dare and dream bigger and higher. You know, I wouldn’t even be surprised if they won the World Cup,” she said

One of the issues that Arab teams faced earlier, she said, is that they used to give up hope soon after the first goal was scored against them. “Yesterday, the team didn’t do that, they played well with great tactics and they fought until the end – just look at the sequence of the goals! This mind shift is the way to go,” she said.

Dalia, whose father Abdullah Kaki was a football player, one of the founding members of the Al Wehda club and the first Saudi Fifa referee, said that she really would have wanted him to witness Tuesday’s win. “No one would have even imagined this to happen,” she said, adding that many Saudis she knew had planned meetings while the game was on as they wanted to avoid watching their team lose.

“After half-time though, everyone was glued to the screens,” she said.

The players’ state of mind was another reason behind the win, said Dalia. During his meeting with members of the Saudi team, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told them to just “enjoy the game”.

In a video, the Saudi Crown Prince can be seen speaking to the team, congratulating them for qualifying and saying: “No one is expecting us to draw or win a game, so I want you to be relaxed. Just play your game and enjoy the World Cup. It’s a difficult group with strong teams. I don’t want you to be under psychological pressure that would affect your performance,” he said.

Dalia thinks that these words were key and contributed to the win. “It’s really a game changer, they just went in and enjoyed themselves and played with passion without the pressure of winning. I think this is how we need to go through life, regardless of the outcome you just give your best,” she said.

Rana Aman, a Palestinian-Algerian tourist in Dubai and a football enthusiast had a different take on the Crown Prince’s talk with the players. He said his words encouraged the team to give their best and exceed expectations.

“This is the beginning of a new Arab era in football. What we saw yesterday was a world-class, masterpiece of a game. I was both shocked and amazed,” she said.

She said that the time has come to reconsider Arab football teams and that after the performance of both the Saudi and Tunisian teams, everyone can see that Arab teams are working hard and improving.

Echoing her statement, Mohamed El Sawi, an Egyptian performing artist, said that the win shows that Arabs don’t need to leave the Middle East to excel in different fields, they can do so in their own land.

“There has been a change in mindset, Saudi Arabia won with local skills, they got a manager who trained a local team who were able to win. This is a milestone, we can be successful in our home," he said.

Mohamed, who grew up in Kuwait and played football in several clubs in Egypt, said that the Saudi win is an accumulation of several efforts that took place over the last decade. “Football in Saudi Arabia is an event. Families attend and a great deal of work goes into state-of-the-art broadcasting. They have qualified many times for the world cup and they are always improving year-on-year,” he said.

The win also showed how football and sports can bring people together, according to Mohamed. “Another success is the Qatari organisation of the event. Look at how all Arabs united yesterday. This can inspire them to do things together as an united Arab nation,” he said.

Sherif Al Ansary, an Egyptian mechanical engineer living in Riyadh said that Arab football keeps getting better and better and this was close to a miracle. Arab teams sometimes feel inferior to western teams, he said. “This win will make a difference psychologically with all Arab teams. They can play with big teams, nothing is impossible,” he said, adding “if you work on your own skills, you really can become something; and it doesn’t only apply to the world of sports.”


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