Three months after Saudi Arabia faced Yemen in the most recent game of the group, the five teams of Group D of the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 reconvene in the Saudi capital Riyadh for the remaining seven matches.
With the group having passed the halfway point, Saudi Arabia hold the advantage at the top going into the three-week run-in on home soil, Uzbekistan and Singapore remain within touching distance of the hosts while Palestine are bottom and practically out of contention.
The remaining seven games of Group D will take place across two iconic grounds that have previously hosted domestic, continental and international Finals.
The larger of the two host venues in Riyadh is King Fahd International Stadium on the outskirts of the capital. Currently home to Saudi champions Al Hilal SFC, the stadium hosted the 1989 FIFA Youth Championship as well as the 1997 FIFA Confederations Cup and the 2014 AFC Champions League final.
Located inside King Saud University campus in the west of Riyadh, the home ground of Al Nassr FC was opened in 2015 and redeveloped last year, seeing its stands painted yellow instead of the original blue and white.
The 25,000 capacity stadium is one of Saudi Arabia’s most modern football grounds and has hosted the 2019 AFC Champions League final first leg between Al Hilal and Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan.
The Group in Context
Unbeaten Saudi Arabia lead the race to qualify to the 2023 AFC Asian Cup and the third round of the Asian Qualifiers to the 2022 FIFA World Cup from Group D with 11 points from five games, two points ahead of their nearest chasers Uzbekistan.
Both the top two sides in the group started their campaign by dropping points to lower ranked sides. Saudi Arabia had to come back from behind twice to draw with Yemen 2-2 on the opening matchday while Uzbekistan were stunned 2-0 by Palestine in their first match.
Three-time Asian champions Saudi Arabia bounced back with an emphatic 3-0 win over Singapore while Uzbekistan’s response to their hiccup was even more comprehensive, putting five past Yemen in Tashkent.
The Uzbeks snatched top spot on Matchday Three after a brace from Eldor Shomurodov secured a 3-1 win against Singapore while Saudi Arabia were held to a stalemate in Palestine.
In November of 2019, it was time for the direct clash at the summit and the Saudis emerged on top thanks to a brace from midfielder Salman Al Faraj that helped them turn a 1-0 disadvantage after 16 minutes to a 3-2 victory at the final whistle.
Solid wins for both contenders in their last game against Palestine - 2-0 for Uzbekistan and 5-0 for Saudi Arabia -means the margins remain fine at the top.
With three games yet to play for each side except Palestine who played one more, Singapore remain in contention and could yet prove to be the dark horses, having collected seven points to sit in third place ahead of Yemen who have five and Palestine who sit bottom on four points.
The group resumes on June 3r with Palestine facing Singapore, while Saudi Arabia face neighbours Yemen on June 5 and Uzbekistan restart their campaign against Singapore two days later.
Salem Al Dawsari - Saudi Arabia
At the age of 29, Salem Al Dawsari has firmly established himself as the nation’s undisputed star. The winger has spent his entire career at Al Hilal, bar a short loan spell at Spanish side Villarreal in 2017-18, collecting a raft of domestic trophies and winning the 2019 AFC Champions League title with his boyhood club.
Since making his debut against Australia in 2012, Al Dawsari has racked up 50 caps, scoring 12 goals for his country, including the winner in their most recent FIFA World Cup victory, a 2-1 win over Egypt in Russia 2018.
Despite being a winger, Al Dawsari is his nation’s top scorer in the current Qualifiers campaign with three goals. His first came in the opening day 2-2 draw against Palestine. He added the winning goal in the 3-2 victory over Uzbekistan and was on the scoresheet against Palestine again in the reverse fixture in March
Eldor Shomurodov - Uzbekistan
Plying his trade in the Italian Serie A with Genoa, 25-year-old Shomurodov has made a strong impression since moving to Italy from Russian side Rostov, bagging seven goals and an assist in 30 appearances. His record for his country also speaks volumes, with 19 goals in 40 appearances.
Shomurodov sits joint in second place amongst the current Asian Qualifiers’ top scorers, level with Japan’s Takumi Minamino, UAE’s Ali Mabkhout and Qatar’s Almoez Ali with six goals each, just one goal behind Syria’s Omal Al Soma.
Since drawing a blank in the opening matchday against Palestine, the towering striker has found the net in each of the next four games for Uzbekistan, including braces against Singapore and Palestine.
Ikhsan Fandi - Singapore
Son of Singapore football legend Fandi Ahmad, Ikhsan Fandi is one of the nation’s hottest young prospects and at just 22 years of age, his influence at the national team has already been felt, with the forward netting eight goals in 18 appearances including three in the current Qualifiers campaign.
Having impressed in Norway with FK Jerv, his second club in the Scandinavian nation, having joined from Raufoss IL last year, Ikhsan will be looking to continue his rich vein of form to help Singapore qualify to the AFC Asian Cup for the first time since hosting the tournament in 1984.
Oday Dabbagh - Palestine
One of the finest talents to emerge from Palestinian football in recent years, 22-year-old Oday Dabbagh broke through at Hilal Alquds, helping the club to three consecutive league titles and impressing for them in the 2019 AFC Cup, scoring four goals in the competition.
Despite his young age, Dabbagh has already earned a move to Kuwaiti side Al Arabi SC and represented Palestine in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. In the current Qualifiers, he scored the opener in Palestine’s stunning 2-0 victory over Uzbekistan and hopes will be high for him to deliver again when the action resumes.
Mohsen Qarawi - Yemen
Yemen’s bright start to the current Qualifiers campaign was boosted by the impressive displays of veteran Mohsen Qarawi. The midfielder’s elegant chip on the opening matchday helped Yemen collect their first point in a 2-2 draw against Singapore.
But it was on Matchday Two that Qarawi made headlines across Asia and beyond when eight minutes into his side’s clash against neighbours Saudi Arabia, he met a long set-piece into the box with an acrobatic finish, scoring one of the best goals of the Asian Qualifiers and helping Yemen to a second consecutive draw.
The 32-year-old only made his international debut four years ago, but has since grown in influence and will be looking to add to his two goals to help Yemen reach the AFC Asian Cup for the second time in a row.