Saeed al-Owairan a porté en 1994 l'Arabie saoudite en huitième de finale de la Coupe du Monde © AP
As football World Cup kicks off in Russia with Saudi Arabia taking on the host nation, KAWA offers you a flashback of the best Arab performances in the mother of all football competitions. Here’s our top 5...
5. Tunisia, 1978
After Egypt (1934) and Morocco (1970), Tunisia was the third Arab nation to take part in the most prestigious football competition. In Argentina, the Eagles of Carthage were facing the FRG, which was then two-time world champion, Poland which finished third at the previous tournament (1974), and Mexico quarter-finalist of its 1970’s World Cup. Led by the golden generation of Tarak Dhiab, Temim Lahzami and Mokhtar Dhouib, Tunisia made a fantastic entrance by beating Mexico (3-1) and winning the first World Cup game for the African continent.
Sadly, the Tunisians were stopped, four days later, by Poland (0-1). In the final group stage match, the Eagles stood up against West Germany (0-0) but had to leave Argentina… after a glorious campaign though.
4. Algeria, 1982
The most outstanding generation of the Algerian football was probably the 80’s one. Led by virtuosos Rabah Madjer and Lakhdar Belloumi, the Algerian newbies literally shaked the hierarchy of world football at the Spanish rendez-vous of 82, an appointment where the Fennecs flickered Rummenigge and Horst Hrubesch’s West Germany (2-1) before losing to Austria (0-2).
For their third game, Algeria defeated Chile (3-2), but was deprived from reaching the next round due to a collusion between Germans and Austrians (1-0) in the other group game – a match that was later nicknamed The Disgrace of Gijón.
3. Morocco, 1986
In 1986, Morocco was the first African and Arab nation to reach the World Cup’s top 16. The team, led historical goalkeeper Badou Zaki, made a fantastic impression against Gary Lineker’s England (0-0) and Poland (0-0), before brilliantly smashing Portugal (3-1).
The Moroccan journey however ended at the next round against West Germany (0-1), future finalist of the competition. The epic campaign of the Atlas’ Lions will nevertheless mark the rise of the African and Arab football.
2. Saudi Arabia, 1994
For its first appearance in World Cup, Saudi Arabia was the underdock of football, a status which the “Falcons” will quickly get rid of. In their first game, the Saudis stood up against Dennis Berkamp’s Netherlands, before losing (1-2) ; an ephemeral mishap as Saeed al-Owairan‘s teammates eventually defeated Morocco (2-1) and Belgium (1-0) afterwards.
The history will especially remember the brilliant goal of Al-Owairan, scored against the Belgian Red Devils after dribbling their whole defense. At the round of 16, however, Arabia faced a stronger opponent : Sweden. Swept (1-3) by the Scandinavians, the Falcons left the competition with honors.
1. Algeria, 2014
2014’s Algerian national team offered an outstanding performance in Brazil with its prolific striker Islam Slimani and its swift offensive midfielders Feghouli and Brahimi. Despite a complicated entrance against Belgium (1-2), the Fennecs carried on with a brilliant victory against South Korea (4-2) and a draw against Russia (1-1) and validated their ticket to the top 16.
At the eighth-final round, Slimani and co. were close to beat the German future world champion before conceding a tight loss (1-2).