It’s probably safe to assume that Nawaf Al-Temyat would happily forget 2001, during which the reigning Asian Player of the Year spent more time onthe treatment table than anywhere else.
Ruptured knee ligaments in a domestic Cup match for his club side, Al Hilal, in May sidelined the 25-year-old for the rest of the year. This kept him out of the final phase of Saudi Arabia’s qualifying campaign for the 2002 World Cup.
Now, though, he is back to lead the Saudis at their third consecutive World Cup finals, making his comeback in a friendly against Brazil, which the Middle Eastern side lost 1-0.
Al-Temyat’s quality, at Asian level at least, is unquestioned. It was his creativity and guile in midfield, as well as his goals, that helped pick Saudi Arabia up after a bad start to the 2000 Asian Cup finals. The team lost their opening group game 4-1 to Japan, but they eventually made it through to the Final, in which they were again beaten by Japan, but much more narrowly, 1-0.
Al-Temyat also inspired Al Hilal to the Asian Club Championship and Asian Super Cup the same year, as well as taking the Asian Player of the Year award.
However, he was not available as the Saudis struggled at the start of the decisive phase of World Cup qualifiers. The team opened by drawing at home to unfancied Bahrain, then lost in Tehran to Iran, results that cost coach Slobodan Santrac his job.
“It was a disappointing and a heartbreaking start,” says Al-Temyat. “Due to my injury it was even more painful and agonising as I was unable to participate.
“That’s not to say I would have made the difference and I am not saying that our opponents were inferior. But to witness our team, with all its potential and abilities, fold early on in the campaign was not what I expected. Looking back, though, it was a blessing in disguise for us to start so low and then build up to finish at the top of the group. Other teams started strongly but faded.
“Constantly talking and being around the players, I knew that we would not fail, and knowing they knew what had to be done was very comforting.” The Saudis pulled themselves back into contention with Nasser Al-Johar at the helm. They qualified for the World Cup as Iran choked at the final hurdle, losing in Bahrain as Saudi Arabia defeated Thailand.
Now Al-Temyat believes his team can build on past achievements, the high point of which was reaching the knockout phase of USA 94.
“The foundation of what we have accomplished will be the catalyst for even greater and more gratifying glories,” says Al-Temyat. “I have no doubt the Saudi Arabian Football Federation will make sure this endeavour reaches a level the like of which has never been seen before.”
Club Al Hilal
Country Saudi Arabia
Born June 28, 1976
International caps 33 (9 goals)
Honours Asian Player of the Year 2000; Asian Club Championship 2000; Asian Super Cup 2000