Through late April, SI.com will profile two World Cup teams a week. We continue with Saudi Arabia. Click here for the full archive.
FIFA world ranking: No. 34.
How they qualified for Germany: Went undefeated through two stages of Asian qualifying with a total 10-2-0 record.
Previous World Cups and finishes: Three appearances (1994, 1998, 2002). Reached the second round in '94.
Manager: Marcos Paquetá, first year with team.
One of the more intriguing storylines of the Saudi team is between the posts. The goalkeeper position is in the extremely capable hands of Mabrouk Zaid, the best at his position in all of Asia. Zaid won the No. 1 spot from World Cup veteran Mohammed al-Daeyea, the Saudis' most-capped player and their netminder for their three previous appearances. Zaid has filled those cleats admirably -- he allowed only two goals in the Falcons' 12 qualifying matches. But al-Daeyea's experience is irreplaceable, so he'll be going to Germany as a backup.
Another veteran who will be expected to lead this young team is striker Sami al-Jaber, who, like al-Daeyea, is 33 and has also been a member of all three Saudi World Cup teams. Al-Jaber was coaxed out of international retirement and was a key reason the Falcons breezed through their qualifying group. He'll pair up front with high-priced, 23-year-old megastar Yasser al-Qahtani, the perfect complement to al-Jaber -- unpredictable and quick.
What to watch for
"It's my expectation that Brazil will meet Saudi Arabia in the World Cup final." None other than Pelé uttered those words to a group of Arab journalists. The King is wildly optimistic. Even though the Saudis will be making their fourth consecutive appearance, this is a green squad still trying to find its way on the international stage.
The Sons of the Desert shocked everyone in their Cup debut, reaching the second round in USA '94. Since then it's been slightly less rosy -- they failed to win a game in '98 and repeated their lackluster performance in '02, including an embarrassing 8-0 pasting at the hands of Germany.
But Saudi soccer has seen a huge influx of cash in recent years, and the sport is growing exponentially in the desert. The country is oozing young talent like oil and is making a big push to keep its stars in its domestic league -- nearly all the national-team players come from Saudi Arabia's four power clubs, Al-Ittihad, Al-Hilal, Al-Ahli and Al-Shabab.
How this squad will perform in Germany is somewhat of a question mark. It's certainly talented but will likely be overwhelmed by a relatively tough group. Head coach Paquetá was hired in December as a last-minute replacement after the team stumbled at the West Asian Games. The former Al-Hilal manager is familiar with his players, but the Brazilian is still experimenting with lineups. This team may not be ready in time for the big show.
Group: H (Spain, Ukraine, Tunisia).
Key match in group stage: June 14 vs. Tunisia. The Falcons will need to get off to a huge start if they're to survive the group stage, which is a long shot at best. Their best chance for a win will be in their first match. From there, it only gets harder, with Ukraine up next and Spain last.