A Guide to Football in Saudi Arabia

Football is the most popular sport in Saudi Arabia, with a rich history dating back several decades. The Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF) governs football in the country, administering both the national football teams of Saudi Arabia and the club competitions. The country has a strong football culture and has produced several notable players over the years.

Saudi Arabia has a competitive football league, the Saudi Professional League, which attracts top talent from around the world. The league has undergone significant changes in recent years, with the country’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), taking over the four largest clubs in the league. This move has injected a significant amount of investment into the league, making it more competitive and attractive to players and fans alike.

For those interested in football in Saudi Arabia, there is a lot to explore, from the country’s football history to the current state of the sport. This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of football in Saudi Arabia, including information on the national team, the Saudi Professional League, and the country’s football culture. Whether you are a fan of the sport or simply interested in learning more, this guide is a great place to start.

History of Football in Saudi Arabia

Football has been a popular sport in Saudi Arabia for many years. The Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) was established in 1956, and the first official football match in the country was played in the same year. The SAFF is responsible for organising and managing football in the country.

The first football league in Saudi Arabia was established in 1976, and it was called the Saudi Premier League. Four clubs participated in the league, and Al-Ahli was the first team to win the championship. The league continued to grow, and in 1991, it was renamed the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques League, after King Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

The Saudi Arabian national football team was established in 1951, and it played its first official match in 1957 against Egypt. The team has participated in several international tournaments, including the FIFA World Cup, the AFC Asian Cup, and the Gulf Cup of Nations. The team has won the AFC Asian Cup three times, in 1984, 1988, and 1996.

Football is the most popular sport in Saudi Arabia, and the country has produced many talented players over the years. Some of the most notable players include Sami Al-Jaber, Yasser Al-Qahtani, and Nawaf Al-Abed. These players have helped to raise the profile of Saudi Arabian football both domestically and internationally.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has been working hard to develop its football infrastructure. The country has built several new stadiums, and it has also invested in youth development programs to help identify and nurture young talent. The government has also been working to promote football tourism, with the aim of attracting more visitors to the country to watch football matches.

Overall, football has played an important role in the history and culture of Saudi Arabia. It is a sport that is loved and cherished by many people in the country, and it has helped to bring people together and promote a sense of national pride.

Saudi Arabian National Team

The Saudi Arabian national football team, also known as the Green Falcons, is one of the most successful teams in Asia. The team has qualified for the FIFA World Cup six times, most recently in 2022, and has won the AFC Asian Cup three times.

FIFA World Cup Appearances

Saudi Arabia first qualified for the FIFA World Cup in 1994 and has since qualified for the tournament five more times. The team’s best performance came in 1994 when they reached the Round of 16, losing to Sweden. In their most recent appearance in 2022, the team failed to advance past the group stage.

AFC Asian Cup Performances

The Green Falcons have won the AFC Asian Cup three times, in 1984, 1988, and 1996. They have also finished as runners-up on three occasions, most recently in 2007. The team has a strong record in the tournament and is considered one of the favourites to win the competition whenever they participate.

Notable Players

Over the years, the Saudi Arabian national team has produced several notable players. Saeed Al-Owairan is widely regarded as one of the country’s greatest ever players. He scored one of the most famous goals in World Cup history in 1994, running from his own half to score against Belgium. Salman Al-Faraj is another standout player for the team, known for his passing ability and leadership on the field.

The team has a strong tradition of producing talented attacking players, with several players over the years earning reputations as prolific goal scorers. The current squad includes several players who have enjoyed success at club level in Europe and Asia, including Salem Al-Dawsari and Yasser Al-Shahrani.

Overall, the Saudi Arabian national team is a force to be reckoned with in Asian football. With a strong record in both the FIFA World Cup and AFC Asian Cup, and a talented squad of players, the team is sure to continue to compete at the highest level for years to come.

Saudi Professional League

The Saudi Professional League, also known as Dawri Al-Muhtarifin Al-Saudia, is the top-flight football league in Saudi Arabia. The league consists of 18 teams, with the season running from August to May.

Top Clubs

The Saudi Professional League boasts some of the most successful clubs in the Middle East. Al-Hilal is the most successful club in the league, having won the title a record 17 times. Other notable clubs include Al-Shabab, Al-Nassr, Al-Ittihad, Al-Ahli, Al-Taawoun, and Al-Fateh.

Notable Foreign Players

The Saudi Professional League has attracted many foreign players over the years. Some of the most notable foreign players who have played in the league include Omar Abdulrahman, Bafétimbi Gomis, Carlos Eduardo, and André Carrillo.

Stadiums

The league is played in various stadiums across the country, with the King Fahd International Stadium being the largest and most iconic stadium in the country. The stadium is located in Riyadh and has a seating capacity of over 68,000. Other notable stadiums include the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah and the Prince Mohammed bin Fahd Stadium in Al-Khobar.

Overall, the Saudi Professional League is a highly competitive league that attracts some of the best talent in the region. With its passionate fans and world-class facilities, it is no wonder that it is considered one of the top football leagues in Asia.

Saudi Arabia and International Football

Participation in Champions League

Saudi Arabia has been participating in the AFC Champions League since 2003, with Al-Hilal, Al-Ahli, and Al-Nassr being the most successful teams from the country in the competition. Al-Hilal has reached the final of the competition three times, winning it twice, in 2019 and 2021. Al-Ahli has also reached the final once, in 2012, but lost to South Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai.

Hosting AFC Asian Cup 2027

Saudi Arabia was announced as the host of the 2027 AFC Asian Cup, beating bids from Iran and Qatar. The tournament will be the 19th edition of the competition and will feature 24 teams from across Asia. This will be the third time that Saudi Arabia will host the tournament, having previously done so in 1984 and 1988.

Saudi Arabia’s Influence in Football

Saudi Arabia has been investing heavily in football in recent years, with the aim of becoming a major player in the sport. In 2023, the Saudi Pro League made headlines by signing some of the world’s most high-profile players, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. The country’s football federation has also been working to improve the national team’s performance, with the aim of qualifying for the World Cup on a regular basis.

Saudi Arabia has also been involved in the administration of football in the region, with the country being a member of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) and the West Asian Football Federation (WAFF). The country has also been involved in the organisation of major football events, including the 2019 AFC Champions League Final, which was held in Riyadh.

In conclusion, Saudi Arabia has been making significant strides in international football, with its clubs competing at the highest levels of the sport and the country being awarded the hosting rights for the 2027 AFC Asian Cup. The country’s investment in football and its growing influence in the administration of the sport in the region suggests that Saudi Arabia will continue to be a major player in football in the years to come.

Football and Economy in Saudi Arabia

Football has long been a popular sport in Saudi Arabia. In recent years, the country has been investing heavily in football, with the aim of boosting its economy, both directly and indirectly. In this section, we will explore how football is impacting the economy of Saudi Arabia.

Football’s Impact on Tourism

One of the ways football is impacting the economy of Saudi Arabia is by attracting more tourists to the country. The Saudi Pro League has been attracting more international players and coaches, which has helped to raise the profile of the league and the country as a whole. This has resulted in an increase in the number of tourists visiting Saudi Arabia to watch football matches.

Investment in Foreign Clubs

Another way football is impacting the economy of Saudi Arabia is through investment in foreign clubs. The Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia has been investing heavily in football clubs around the world, including Newcastle United in the English Premier League. This has helped to raise the profile of Saudi Arabia and has also provided the country with a platform to promote its tourism industry.

Vision 2030 and Football

Football is also playing a key role in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan, which aims to diversify the country’s economy and reduce its reliance on oil. The plan includes a focus on developing the leisure and entertainment industry, of which football is a key part. The government is investing in the construction of new stadiums and sports facilities, as well as promoting the development of local talent.

In conclusion, football is having a significant impact on the economy of Saudi Arabia, both directly and indirectly. The country’s investment in football is helping to attract more tourists, raise its profile on the international stage, and promote the development of local talent. As Saudi Arabia continues to implement its Vision 2030 plan, football is likely to play an even greater role in the country’s economy in the years to come.

Controversies and Criticisms

Sportswashing Allegations

Saudi Arabia’s involvement in sport has been a source of controversy for several years. The country has spent billions of dollars on high-profile international sporting events in a bid to improve its image and reputation, a practice known as “sportswashing”. According to a report by The Guardian, Saudi Arabia has spent at least $1.5bn on sportswashing since 2016.

Critics argue that these events are being used to distract attention from the country’s poor human rights record and ongoing conflicts in the region. The country’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has been accused of using sport as a tool to whitewash his reputation and distract from allegations of human rights abuses.

Human Rights Issues

Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has been widely criticised by international organisations such as Amnesty International. The country has been accused of a range of human rights abuses, including restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly, and the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 also drew international condemnation and raised questions about the country’s human rights record. The Saudi government has denied any involvement in the killing, but many believe that the Crown Prince was involved.

Despite these criticisms, Saudi Arabia has been awarded the hosting rights for several major sporting events, including the Dakar Rally, the Formula E electric car racing series, and the heavyweight boxing rematch between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr. in 2019.

In conclusion, while Saudi Arabia has made significant investments in sport in recent years, these efforts have been marred by allegations of sportswashing and ongoing human rights issues.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the top football clubs in Saudi Arabia?

The top football clubs in Saudi Arabia are Al-Hilal FC, Al-Nassr FC, and Al-Ittihad FC. These clubs have a rich history and have won numerous domestic and international titles. They also have a large fan base and are considered to be among the most successful clubs in the country.

Which is considered the best football team in Saudi Arabia?

The Saudi Arabia national football team is considered to be the best football team in Saudi Arabia. The team has a strong record in international competitions, having qualified for the FIFA World Cup six times and winning the AFC Asian Cup three times. The team is also known for producing talented players, some of whom have gone on to play for top European clubs.

How popular is football in Saudi Arabia?

Football is extremely popular in Saudi Arabia, with the sport being played and watched by millions of people across the country. The Saudi Professional League, which is the top tier of football in the country, attracts large crowds to matches and is broadcast on television. Football is also played at the grassroots level, with many young people participating in local leagues and tournaments.

What is the current level of Saudi Arabia in football?

The current level of Saudi Arabia in football is competitive. The national team has a strong record in international competitions, and the country’s top clubs have achieved success both domestically and internationally. The Saudi Arabian Football Federation is also investing in the development of football across the country, with a focus on improving infrastructure, coaching, and youth development.

Who are the players in the Saudi Arabia national football team for 2022?

The players in the Saudi Arabia national football team for 2022 have not yet been announced. However, the team is expected to include some of the country’s top players, as well as emerging talents.

Are there any football clubs in Saudi Arabia looking for players?

Football clubs in Saudi Arabia are always on the lookout for talented players, both from within the country and abroad. However, the process of joining a club can be competitive, and players must typically go through a rigorous selection process. Interested players are advised to contact clubs directly or work with a reputable football agency to explore potential opportunities.

Is Saudi Arabia good in football?

Saudi Arabia has had some success in football, particularly in Asia. The national team, known as the Green Falcons, has won the Asian Cup three times (1984, 1988, 1996). They have also qualified for the FIFA World Cup several times, with their best performance coming in 1994 when they reached the Round of 16.

At the club level, Saudi Arabian teams have been successful in the AFC Champions League, the premier club competition in Asian football. Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad are among the most successful clubs in the country and have won the AFC Champions League multiple times.

However, it’s worth noting that while Saudi Arabia has been successful in Asian competitions, they have had less success on the global stage. They have struggled to make an impact at the World Cup beyond their 1994 performance, and Saudi clubs have not had the same level of success in the FIFA Club World Cup as they have had in Asia.

In terms of player development, Saudi Arabia has produced some notable players who have had successful careers both domestically and internationally, but they have not produced players who have reached the highest echelons of the sport, such as playing in the top European leagues or winning global awards.

So while Saudi Arabia has had some success in football, particularly at the Asian level, they are not traditionally considered a global power in the sport. However, the country has shown a commitment to improving its football infrastructure and developing talent, which could lead to increased success in the future.

What level is Saudi Arabia in football?

As of April 2023, Saudi Arabia is ranked 54th in the FIFA Men’s World Rankings. This ranking is an indication of the country’s performance in international football relative to other nations. The FIFA World Rankings take into account factors like a team’s performance in competitive matches, the importance of the matches played, the strength of opposing teams, and regional strength. Being ranked 54th places Saudi Arabia in the mid-tier of international football, demonstrating that while they have had some success, there is room for improvement on the global stage.

Which is the best football team in Saudi Arabia?

Al Hilal is considered the best football team in Saudi Arabia as of 2023. This prestigious club, based in Riyadh, has a rich history and a strong record of performance in both domestic and international competitions. Over the years, Al Hilal has consistently demonstrated its prowess on the field, producing notable players and securing numerous victories. The team’s success is reflected not just in the number of trophies it has won, but also in its contribution to elevating the standard of football in Saudi Arabia. Al Hilal’s success and influence have made it a prominent figure in the landscape of Saudi Arabian, and indeed Asian football.


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