Nelo Vingada gave Hussein Abdulghani his competitive Saudi Arabia debut during the victorious 1996 Asian Cup campaign and the coach believes that the
defender’s shock international recall more than 21 years later could offer the Green Falcons much-needed experience at this summer’s World Cup.
Now aged 41, the left-back, who plays his club football in Bulgaria, was picked by Juan Antonio Pizzi for the Green Falcons squad set to face Iraq later this month. It was the first time he had been selected for national team duties since 2009.
The former Al-Ahli and Al-Nassr star has been to three World Cups and will join the Feb.28 friendly in Basra, another step in Pizzi’s preparations for this summer’s tournament in Russia.
And while some have expressed bemusement that the coach has gone for a player long since forgotten about, Vingada thinks Pizzi has made a sensible move.
“The new coach is obviously looking for experience,” Vingada told Arab News.
“The World Cup is the highest level in football and the best players are there. For teams like Saudi Arabia you need to look at every option and you need players who have been there before.”
The Green Falcons and Abdulghani have been absent from the biggest of stages since 2006, but Vingada, 64, understands Pizzi’s reasoning.
“Middle East teams need someone who is maybe over 35 and has that experience to help the others,” said Vingada, mentioning Essam El-Hadary, the 44-year-old Egyptian goalkeeper who is also expected to go to the World Cup in Russia.
“Usually this kind of experienced player is the goalkeeper but Hussein can do this. He can help create a good atmosphere in the team because he has played more big games than anyone in Saudi Arabia.”
Vingada took the reins of the Saudi Arabia national team in 1996, just weeks before the start of the tournament held in the United Arab Emirates. After watching the then 19-year-old in the league, the Portuguese coach drafted him into the squad and into the starting XI for the final match against the UAE.
“I had seen him playing and brought him in and although he was young, I had no doubts about selecting him for the final. He had no weak points. He was not big but very strong and aggressive and very fast.”
The final was a tough test in Abu Dhabi against the host nation and their 60,000 fans but Abdulghani took it in his stride and went on to appear more than 130 times for his country.
Vingada’s decision almost backfired as the player was sent off with seven minutes remaining of normal time in a fairly turgid 0-0 draw.
“Playing in a big final was not easy but he stepped up and he gave a very solid performance. It wasn’t a good game to be honest but he did what I asked him to do and gave the attacking team no time or space.”
Saudi Arabia had to reorganize to hold out for extra time before emerging victorious in the penalty shootout. It marked their third and, to date, last continental crown.
Abdulghani spent 13 years with Al-Ahli before heading to Swiss team Neuchatel Xamax in 2008, returning home the following year to join Al-Nassr. Abdulghani stayed in Riyadh for eight seasons before his recent move to Vereya in the Bulgarian league.
“What is impressive is that he recovered from that sending off and built a fine career,” said Vingada. “He was one of the only Saudi players to go overseas. He has leadership qualities and while he is not as fast as he was, experience is always needed and for Saudi Arabia, especially international experience.”
The same is true of Mohammed Al-Shlhoub, also recalled. The talented midfielder from Al-Hilal, 37, last appeared for the national team in 2012.
“He is another fine player,” said Vingada.
“Of course, you don’t want a team full of 35 year old players especially in the modern game but it is all about finding the right balance. The coach can look and decide for himself if these older players can make a difference. That is his job.”
WORLD CUP GOLDEN OLDIES
If Hussein Abdulghani impresses Juan Antonio Pizzi then a spot in Saudi Arabia’s World Cup squad is on the cards. ARAB NEWS looks at the impressive list of golden oldies he would join if he did get to play in Russia.
FARYD MONDRAGON (Colombia, Brazil ‘14) 43 :
The goalkeeper was just over 43 when he came on as a second-half substitute against Japan in the final group game in Brazil. It was 20 years after he first went to the World Cup.
ROGER MILLA (Cameroon, USA ‘94) 42: The only outfield player in the top five. He was the star of the 1990 World Cup who got his country to the last eight in Italy. He had not had enough of the limelight and went back to the big stage four years later at the age of 42.
PAT JENNINGS (Northern Ireland, Mexico ‘86) 41: The giant goalkeeper not only played for North London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham, but also went to two World Cups. The super stopper helped Northern Ireland perform well in 1982 and again in 1986 when he appeared against Brazil on his 41st birthday.
PERTER SHILTON (England Italia ‘90) 40: He could have gone out with a winner’s medal had he managed to save a penalty in the memorable shootout against West Germany in the semifinal. But at the age of 40,Shilton made his 125th appearance in the third-placed match against hosts Italy.
DINO ZOFF (Italy, Spain ‘82) 40: You cannot do better than ending your career by winning the World Cup and the legendary goalkeeper had his last action in the 1982 final as Italy defeated West Germany 3-1. He was also the captain and lifted the trophy just four months after his 40th birthday.