At the 1994 FIFA World Cup held in United States, Saudi Arabia made their debut at the prestigious quadrennial footballing event. Saudi Arabia had established themselves at the continental level, having won the 1984 and 1988 Asian Cups and ending as runners-up in 1992.
In their first ever World Cup, they were 500-to-1 outsiders and not much was expected of them. They opened against Netherlands in the first group stage and were defeated 2-1 but followed that up with a win over Morocco.
But it was in their match against Belgium that Saudi Arabia made the footballing world sit up and take notice. Saudi Arabian forward Saeed Al-Owairan scored what is still considered one of the greatest goals in the World Cup.
Within five minutes of the match, Al-Owairan made an exhilarating 70-yard run that would result in an extraordinary winner for his team. He gathered the ball deep in his own half, charged almost the entire length of the pitch with a fine burst of pace, and skipped past a couple of Belgian defenders while controlling the ball with ease.
He ended his run by sliding a shot past Michel Preud’homme to score the only goal of the game and send Saudi Arabia through to the knockout round.
"It was the best goal I ever scored in my life," Al-Owairan later said. "I scored it for every Saudi person in the world, for every Arab."
Saudi Arabia eventually lost 1-3 to Sweden in the Round of 16 but the goal propelled Al-Owairan to stardom and he was nicknamed ‘The Maradona of the Arabs’. He was also presented with a Rolls-Royce on his return to Saudi Arabia and became a national icon. He was also named as Asian Footballer of the Year.
However, just two years after the 1994 World Cup, Al-Owairan was caught drinking alcohol and socialising with women during Ramzan by the Saudi police. He was given a prison sentence and suspended from competitive football for one year.
“Because (the goal) put me in the spotlight, everybody was focusing on me,” he said. “In some ways it was great, in others it was awful. I have seen this goal maybe 1,000 times now, and I'm honestly fed up with it.”
For Saudi Arabian football fans, though, Al-Owairan's goal remains a moment of magic that they would happily watch a thousand times over.
Updated Date: May 28, 2018 11:00:31 IST