Al Faraj, the Green Falcons’ new leader

Salman Alfaraj of Saudi Arabia scores a penalty for his team's first goal

  • Salman Al Faraj is one of Saudi Arabia’s key players
  • Captain dreaming of Qatar 2022
  • Midfielder helped Al Hilal win 2019 Champions League

Defensive midfielders are known for their disciplined approach to tactics and not leaving huge spaces behind them when they do get forward.

A few of them, however, can offer much more by fulfilling an array of difficult roles. Unfortunately, their displays, however effective, often do not generate the acclaim they deserve, with goalscorers, wingers or even goalkeepers tending to hog the headlines.

Salman Al Faraj, who plays for the star-studded Saudi Arabia national team and Al Hilal, is somewhat unique in modern day Saudi football. Over the past few years, the 30-year old midfielder has been making a notable mark there, contributing to Saudi Arabia’s qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ and Al Hilal claiming the 2019 AFC Champions League title.

Best yet to come

After he was promoted to Al Hilal’s first team in 2008, Al Faraj soon established himself at the Saudi giants and would go on to take his place alongside other club legends. Season after season, he proved himself indispensable to a string of coaches. Having carried out a variety of on-field roles early on in his career, Al Faraj gained vast experience that would contribute to his stellar performance for club and country.

He played a key role in helping Saudi Arabia qualify for Russia 2018 and return to the world stage after an eight-year absence. At the finals, he scored one goal against Egypt, paving the way to his country’s solitary win at the tournament. Despite losing to Russia in the opening game, Saudi Arabia gave a solid performance against Uruguay, only losing by a single goal.

After winning their last game against Egypt when already eliminated, Al Faraj sent a simple message to the Saudi fans, saying: “We wanted to do more, but the best is yet to come.”

Players of Al Faraj’s calibre understand that that reaching the top is only half the battle. He maintained his fantastic form to become one of the most important players in Herve Renard’s squad. And not only has he been wearing the captain’s armband during the Qatar 2022 qualifiers, but he scored two goals that could prove decisive in Saudi Arabia making the final qualifying round.

In a very tough encounter with Uzbekistan in Tashkent on the fifth matchday of Group D, the midfielder made it 2-2 when he equalised five minutes from time, before his team-mate Salem Al Dawsari netted a last-gasp winner for the Green Falcons.

Having picked up eight points from four games, Saudi Arabia are currently second in their group, one point behind Uzbekistan, who have played a game more. With four fixtures remaining including three at home, Renard’s side are favourites to make the final round when the qualifiers resume.

Al Hilal mainstay

In addition to his brilliant performance with the Saudi national team, Al Faraj is a key player at Al Hilal, a club that features a raft of star names, including Bafetimbi Gomes, Andre Carrillo, and Sebastian Giovinco.

In linking up defence and attack, a great deal of play goes through Al Faraj. It came as no surprise then when the stats revealed he has been the best passer in the AFC Champions League since 2014 with 2561 successful passes. Speaking of this record, he said: “Now that Al Hilal have won the title, I can celebrate this personal achievement.”

Having led Al Hilal to continental glory, Al Faraj was set to showcase his skills on another global stage at the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2019™ only to miss out through injury.

With a Covid-19 stay-at-home order is still in effect in Saudi Arabia, Al Faraj is training at home, making sure he is physically fit for when competitive action resumes in early August. Once that happens, he will be gunning for another league title with Al Hilal, who currently lead the standings six points clear of their nearest pursuers Al Nasr.

Luis Suarez of Uruguay is tackled by Salman Alfaraj of Saudi Arabia

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