Saudi Arabian fans based in the UK have described their team’s unexpected win over Argentina as a culturally “significant moment” – and a boost for the nation’s hopes of hosting the 2030 World Cup.
Supporters from the Middle Eastern nation expressed a strong sense of pride after watching their team, ranked 51st in the world by Fifa, secure a 2-1 triumph over Lionel Messi’s side, the global number three.
London-based analyst Dr Najah Al-Otaibi said the win would show the world “the country is developing very fast”, while Dr Mashael Hobani, a recent York University graduate, described it as “a significant moment for all Saudis”.
Dr Al-Otaibi, who has lived in England for 10 years and is a trustee for the Saudi British Society, told the PA news agency: “It was an incredible game.
“The energy and the determination resembled the spirit that you would see in Saudi Arabia now.
“The country is developing very fast, so as people they have lots of hope and dreams and want to be the best in everything.
“This victory means a lot for us not just as Saudis, but as Gulf citizens in general who are seeing an aggressive and unfair coverage of how things are in the region.
“Football is a great soft power tool to bridge between cultures and create a better understanding between people.”
Dr Al-Otaibi said she was surprised by the result, but added that Saudi fans “always have faith in our team” which is “a regular champion of the Asian Cup”.
She added that the win reminded her of the team’s triumph over Belgium in 1994 after Saeed Al-Owairan scored “what was considered the most impressive goal in the history of the World Cup”.
When asked whether it felt like an important cultural moment for Saudi Arabia, she said: “Indeed, especially as we are trying to bid to host the World Cup in 2030.
“It’s a good introduction for other nations to see how developed Saudi sport is.”
Dr Mashael Hobani, 34, who graduated from York University with a PhD in health policy last year, said there was a “beautiful atmosphere” among fans in the Saudi capital of Riyadh where she watched the game on Tuesday.
She told PA: “I’m a football fan and I have loved watching World Cup matches with my family since I was a child.
“I watched the match today with many Saudis, old and young, females and men, in a large public park prepared with huge screens and comfortable chairs for the event.
“I’m so proud of our Saudi football team and their great performance.
“It was a significant moment for all Saudis since the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is witnessing great development in all fields, especially sports.”
Dr Hobani added that she was hopeful that Saudi Arabia might host the 2030 World Cup.
Saudi Arabia’s next 2022 World Cup match is against Poland at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, on Saturday.