In the hour that followed Saudi Arabia’s defeat of Argentina in their opening game of this World Cup, 80 per cent of the global Twitter traffic for all things Qatar 2022 was generated by the Saudis.

While King Salman bin Abdulaziz responded to that jaw-dropping 2-1 win by declaring that the next day would be a national holiday, analysts said the best measure of what the victory meant to a country of 35 million people was the frenzy it sparked on social media.

For Fifa and the World Cup it is being regarded here in Doha as particularly significant, because it will strengthen the resolve of the Saudis to bring the tournament back to the Middle East as quickly as possible.

After the tournament heads to North America and Mexico in 2026, it should return to Europe four years later. But the Saudis are expected to offer a solution to that problem, with a joint bid for 2030 alongside Greece and Egypt. It would be the first World Cup on three continents but would tick that Uefa box.

How palatable a scenario that would be for Fifa remains to be seen but the Saudis certainly believe their chances have been enhanced by the perceived success of a first Arab World Cup, as well as a win against Lionel Messi and co.


Bringing the tournament here has certainly proved lucrative, with Fifa generating $7.5 billion (about £6.2 billion) in revenue in this latest four-year cycle. But the criteria through which a tournament is judged by the global governing body goes beyond the cash, with Fifa sure to cite the Qatari organisation of this unique, centralised tournament as another cause for celebration.

Then, of course, there has been the competition itself. The selection of Qatar has resulted in 12 years of criticism for switching to a winter tournament and the concerns around human rights.

Fans wave a Saudi Arabia flag during a parade through Qatar following the World Cup final

Fans wave a Saudi Arabia flag during a parade through Qatar following the World Cup final


But Fifa will feel vindicated by Morocco’s advance to the semi-finals, not to mention some of the more unexpected results. It will regard it as vindication, too, for taking its tournament to new territories and increasing the number of participants, from 2026, to 48 teams.

According to sources close to the Saudis, it will not be long before they publicly declare a desire to host the World Cup as part of their Vision 2030 Quality of Life project.

The Saudi pursuit of major sporting events, not to mention buying sports teams such as Newcastle United, is met with understandable cynicism and widespread accusations of sportswashing. Just like Qatar, there are legitimate concerns around human rights.

The Saudis, however, argue that in a country in which 70 per cent of the population is under 35 and yet is largely inactive — with obesity rates a major concern — this is about increasing sports participation as part of a broader cultural transformation.

The Saudi government has committed $2 billion for sports by 2024, including $670 million to support private sector sports clubs. That alone has boosted participation by 37 per cent across sports in recent years.

With money no object, the Saudis say the move into international sport is part of the process. They claim their hosting of major boxing bouts has resulted in the number of dedicated boxing gyms increasing from seven to 49. They say their controversial land grab in golf, not least with the LIV tour, is leading to courses opening across the country. They say the same is happening in tennis; even esports. Gamers8 is the biggest esports and gaming event in the world, with $15 million in prize money.


Football, however, is king, with more than 2.6 million people under 30 playing the game and a new national women’s league launched this year.

They say 80 per cent of the population either plays, follows or attends matches in Saudi Arabia, with major western brands among those to see the potential. Adidas has just replaced Nike as the kit sponsors for the national team.

Much like Qatar, the Saudis will simply build new stadiums, and they plan to construct four for the 2027 Asian Cup if they secure the rights to host the tournament.

Saudi Arabia celebrate after scoring against the eventual World Cup winners, Argentina

Saudi Arabia celebrate after scoring against the eventual World Cup winners, Argentina


One already completed is the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium, which is home to Al-Ittihad — a Saudi Professional League team managed by the former Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers head coach Nuno Espírito Santo.

The Saudis boasted the only World Cup squad made up entirely of players from their domestic league and, while they will be excited by the potential arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo, the interest of the fans does not extend far beyond the Saudi borders.

Ian Cathro, who is Nuno’s deputy in Jeddah after following him from Spurs, confirmed as much this week.

“They are fanatical here about the domestic league,” Cathro said. “We attract crowds of more than 60,000 and the success the national team enjoyed in Qatar will only increase that interest.


“I’ve been here since August and what has struck me is the passion for their football. In other countries you might find there’s a lot of focus on the leagues in England or Spain. But here it’s their own teams.”

Now the push to see their national team as hosts of a second Arab World Cup.