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Riyadh: The second most capped men’s footballer in history, Mohamed Al Deayea is among the all-time greats for both Al Hilal and Al Ta’ee as well as the Saudi Arabian national side. 

With the legendary goalkeeper celebrating his 45th birthday on August 2, looks back on a career that few in world football will be able to rival.

Starting at the top

Not many players start their careers at the very top and continue to perform at the highest levels, but for Mohamed Al Deayea, the matches that would define his career came at the tender age of 16.

The young goalkeeper was drafted from the youth ranks of his hometown club Al Ta’ee into the U-16 Saudi Arabia side by Brazilian coach Ivo Wortmann in 1988. The following summer he was on the plane to Scotland, where Saudi Arabia were representing Asia alongside China and Bahrain in the 1989 FIFA U-16 World Championship.

The Young Green Falcons would go all the way to become the first – and to date only – Asian side to lift the trophy as Al Deayea proved to be the standout goalkeeper in the tournament. The highlight of his competition came in the final against hosts Scotland in front of 51,000 fans at Glasgow’s Hampden Park.

“Al Deayea, the goalkeeper, was the match hero for his team in the final. Apart from blocking two penalties, he also pulled off a few other spectacular feats which were applauded not only by his teammates but by the sporting connoisseurs in the crowd as well,” read the official FIFA technical report for the tournament.

The next big step

For Saudi Arabia, 1994 marked an iconic year as they made their FIFA World Cup debut and Al Deayea was the only man from that class of 1989 to make the squad for the U.S.A.

Although just 22 at the time, he was trusted with the starting spot and rewarded Argentine coach Jorge Solari with a string of solid performances that saw the Saudis edge Belgium to progress to the knockout stage.

Two years later in the United Arab Emirates, more or less the same group of players that did so well in America were out to reclaim the AFC Asian Cup crown they had lost to Japan in the previous edition in 1992.

Al Deayea rose to the occasion once more; four clean sheets in addition to decisive penalty shootout saves in the semi-finals against the Islamic Republic of Iran and the final against hosts the UAE saw the Saudi custodian named Goalkeeper of the Tournament as he lifted his first major trophy with the senior national team.



Dazzling Wembley

As Al Deayea and co prepared for their second World Cup appearance in France 98, the Green Falcons headed to Wembley to face mighty England. Although a friendly, the gulf in class was clear as Alan Shearer, Teddy Sheringham and Paul Scholes bombarded the Saudi goal with shots from start to finish.

But standing between the Three Lions and a big win was one man; Al Deayea put in a man-of-the-match performance to the frustration of the home crowd, making no less than 15 saves as even substitutes Paul Gascoigne and Ian Wright failed to get past the goalkeeper as the Saudis nabbed a memorable goalless draw.

World Cups and the Twilight Years

A month after that memorable afternoon at Wembley, Saudi Arabia struggled in a tough group that included eventual champions France alongside Denmark and South Africa.

Al Deayea played all three matches as the Green Falcons bowed out at the group stage. In 2002, he would captain Saudi Arabia in yet another underwhelming World Cup campaign that remains remembered for a comprehensive 0-8 reversal against Germany.

Despite getting the call up for the 2006 World Cup, a 34-year-old Al Deayea was relegated to a reserve role in Germany and soon after the tournament, he announced his international retirement having represented his country 178 times, a record for any Asian player and only exceeded globally by Egypt’s Ahmed Hassan.

Conquering Asia with Al Hilal

Having reached new heights with the national team, Al Deayea was eager to collect silverware at club level too, which meant leaving mid-table side Al Ta’ee, having led them to an unlikely league triumph in 1994-95.

His intent to leave sparked a transfer battle between Riyadh rivals Al Hilal and Al Nassr. Al Deayea finally joined the former in a US$1.5M move that – at the time – made him the most expensive Saudi player in history. The iconic goalkeeper was for the second time in his career replacing older brother Abdullah, having taken his place at Al Ta’ee years earlier.

Al Deayea would prove to be worth every penny for The Blues, leading his side’s charge to the 2000 Asian Club Championship final and keeping a clean sheet in every game along the way.

Japan’s Jubilo Iwata managed to find a way past Al Deayea twice, but Al Hilal would emerge 3-2 winners to be crowned Asian champions for the second time in their history. Al Deayea’s Asian exploits did not stop there, though, as he went on to add the 2000 Asian Super Cup and the 2001-02 Asian Cup Winners’ Cup to his cabinet.

Overall, his 10-year tenure at Al Hilal saw the legendary goalkeeper lift 12 domestic trophies, including four league titles. Al Deayea hung his gloves in June 2010 and a farewell match between Al Hilal and Juventus was held in his honour in 2012.

Photos: Lagardère Sports & AFP