Name: Fahad Al-Muwallad
Team: Saudi Arabia
Height: 5′ 6″
Weight: 130 Lbs
Club Team: Al-Ittihad (Saudi Arabia); Released by Levante (Spain) in May.
World Cup Appearances: Zero
Background: The most significant moment of Al-Muwallad’s young career came when he scored the game-winning goal in a World Cup Qualifying clincher against Japan. The goal earned Saudi Arabia a spot in the World Cup for the first time since 2006.
In preparations for this year’s tournament, Al-Muwallad was among three players Saudi Arabia loaned to La Liga — the top soccer league in Spain. Saudi Arabia hoped the players would gain valuable experience against elite-level talent, but the move did not garner much playing time for Al-Muwallad. He was billed as the “Saudi Arabian Messi” by La Liga’s Middle East and North Africa General Director Fernando Sanz, however, Al-Muwallad made just two appearances for Levante this past season.
Despite a disappointing stint in Spain, Al-Muwallad has considerable experience playing for the Saudi national team. Heading into the World Cup, Al-Muwallad has scored 10 goals in 43 appearances for the senior squad. But the speedy forward is expected to take a more prominent role on the team this time around.
Al-Muwallad has started in Saudi Arabia’s last two exhibition games before the World Cup, including a start against defending World Cup champion Germany. Saudi Arabia will rely on Al-Muwallad’s impressive pace and ball skills to create scoring opportunities.
The Saudis come into this year’s tournament as heavy underdogs. The team is ranked 67th in the world by FIFA. Meanwhile, Vegas oddsmakers say Saudi Arabia is tied for the worst odds of winning the tournament (1000-1) and the second-worst odds of winning its group (50-1).
The lead up to the World Cup has also been a bit chaotic. The team hired Former Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi as its head coach last November. He is the Saudi Arabia’s third coach during the World Cup cycle.
If Saudi Arabia has any chance of advancing, it’ll hinge on how quickly the team adapts to Pizzi’s coaching style and the chemistry established Al-Muwallad and star striker Mohammad Al-Sahlawi.