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How did Arab teams fare in World Cup Qualifiers? Open in fullscreen

Uri Levy

How did Arab teams fare in World Cup Qualifiers?

Six football matches remain for Arab teams attempting to reach Russia 2018 [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 October, 2016

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Middle Eastern club football went on a break in most of the region during the past week, in order to make room for the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers.

Middle Eastern club football went on a break in most of the region during the past week, in order to make room for the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers.

The matches took place last Thursday (6.10) and Tuesday (11.10). Here are some talking points on each Arab national team, from these two rounds of games.


Iraq’s misfortune continues. After two losses in the first two matches in the group, Iraq hoped to get at least four points from these two games. And they almost did. Their match in Japan almost ended with a tie, but on the 95th minute Hotaru Yamaguchi scored the winner for the Blue Samurais.

On Tuesday, the Lions of Mesopotamia met Thailand in Tehran, and enjoyed a marvelous day of Mohanad Abdulraheem, who scored a super hat trick (four goals) and led his team to an impressive 4-0 victory – their first against the Thais in 15 years.

Despite the win, and due to the lack of a genuine home pitch due to the country’s security issues, it seems that talented but unlucky Iraq will watch the forthcoming World Cup from home.


The Qataris has no aspirations to qualify for Russia 2018. But, they certainly do want to improve prior the 2022 World Cup which is planned to take place at their own country.

Meanwhile, the national team is showing off its varied group of naturalise foreigners. Against South Korea, Sebastián Soria gave Qatar the lead on halftime, but the Koreans scored twice and won 3-2.

Against Syria on Tuesday, the Maroons, took the lead from a penalty by Hassan Khalid. The Syrians were better overall, but two great saves from goalkeeper Sadd Abdullah, and some experienced moves of the Japanese-Brazilian-Qatari Rodrigo Tabata helped Qatar to secure their first victory in this stage, after three losses.


The sensation of the qualification so far is struggling under new coach Ayman Hakeem. The Syrians gained a lucrative 1-0 victory over China in Xa’in last Thursday, but was unlucky in Doha against Qatar on Tuesday.

Even Omar Khribin, Syria’s hero in the competition with seven goals in the qualifications so far, couldn’t save the Qasioun Eagles.

A great free-kick of his went to the crossbar only after a brilliant fingertip save by the Qatari goalkeeper. It seems that like Iraq, Syria, who suffers the same problem of ‘home’ fixtures hosting, will need a miracle to go through.


Iran is one of the biggest winners from this double header international break. Two solid victories over strong rivals in the group – Uzbekistan in Tashkent and South Korea at home (respectively).

Against the Koreans on Tuesday, in front of 78,116 fans in a full Azadi Stadium in Tehran, they finally produced a very good game in this stage. Smart passes, good pace and tons of creativity were all part of the Persians game. The ‘Iranian Messi ’Saradar Azmoun scored his 16th goal in 22nd appearances and helped his team to gain its 16th consecutive match without losing, while conquering the 1st place in Group A. Team Melli is looking sharp, and on the right way to Russia.


In the past two years the Emirates are the black horses of Asian football, and the rising stars of Arab football. Russia 2018 was the goal of the country’s campaign.

Their 3-1 victory over Thailand on Thursday showed that they got over last round’s loss to Australia, but on Tuesday, they went to Jeddah to face the Saudis. The Emiratis dictated the game in the first half with brilliant passes of Omar Amoory Abdulrahman and dangerous runs from strikers Ali Mabkhout and Ahmad Khalil, but couldn’t get the goal and the half ended in 0-0.

On the second they opened at the same pace, but on the 58th minute coach Mahdi Ali changed Khalil for Hassan Ibrahim and changed to a more defensive formation, in order to keep the result as is.

It did not work well, to say the least, and Saudi Arabia began to pressure. The match ended with a 3-0 victory to the Saudis, and the UAE team will have to work extremely hard if they want to qualify from the difficult Group B.

Saudi Arabia

The biggest winner of this break is Saudi Arabia. After few years of struggling at the continental and international levels, the Green Falcons, showed some real quality against two mega rivals for World Cup qualification.

The Saudis tied 2-2 after a serious fight against Australia on Thursday, and noted a prestigious 3-0 thrashing of the UAE at the Gulf Derby. After a hesitated beginning for the match Jeddah exploded. Fahad Al-Muwallad scored a magnificent volley, a serious contender for goal of the season after a genius assist by Faraj.

Immediately after Nawaf Al-Abid netted from inside of the box and on the 94th minute, Yehia Al-Shehri curled in a stylish free kick in order to determine the victory. Bret Van Marvijk and his players are on top of Group B, confident prior next battles for the tickets to Russia.

This international break saw the Arab countries reality and attitudes reflected in football.

Iraq and Syria gained first decent victories, but both are still far from a place in Russia, and will continue to struggle as security issues will keep them away from their home stadiums; The Emiratis received a wakeup call for their aspirations for a World Cup spot and will need to fight harder if they want to make a serious statement; and the dominancy of Iran and Saudi Arabia, the region’s current two major powers at the battle fields, is significant on the football pitches too.

The journey of Middle Eastern teams to 2018 World Cup in Russia is on, four games behind, six to go.

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