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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: Ahmed Al-Ghamdi has always dreamed big, but after news that Saudi Arabia was the sole bidder for the 2034 FIFA World Cup, all but guaranteeing the 48-team extravaganza will be played in the Kingdom for the first time, he is now aiming for the stars.
The midfielder, who plays under Steven Gerrard for Al-Ettifaq in the Saudi Pro League, only turned 22 in September. By the time the World Cup rolls around in 2034, he will likely have just turned 33; easily still young enough to be in consideration for the Green Falcons squad.
He told Arab News: “Obviously I did the math. Once they announced that they will be hosting the World Cup in 2034 I calculated how old I would be, and when I found out I would be 33, I got very excited because there’s still a big possibility to participate in the World Cup.
“To play in a World Cup on home soil in front of Saudi Arabian fans, and hopefully give good performances and maybe make history going to the further rounds in the World Cup, it will be truly amazing and something dreams are made of.”
Someone who knows what it means to play at a World Cup on home soil is South Korean star and former Al-Hilal fullback, Lee Young-pyo.
Lee, who spent two seasons at the Riyadh club between 2009 and 2011, was one of 23 players selected to represent his country at the 2002 World Cup, the first ever World Cup to be hosted in Asia.
It was at that tournament that the Taegeuk Warriors stunned the world with an improbable run to the semi-finals, dispatching the likes of Italy and Spain along the way. The scenes of hundreds of thousands of fans, all clad in red, spilling out onto the streets of Seoul in wild celebration with each passing victory live long in the memory.
Two decades may have passed since then, but the memories are still vivid for Lee.
He said: “Being able to play in the World Cup in my home country was a very special experience. The nation coming together in unity through football was something that stood out to me the most.”
Such a social celebration awaits Saudi Arabia in 2034.
Having already seen the country undertake substantial social reform over the past decade as part of Vision 2030, Al-Ghamdi was excited to see what another decade of development would do for his country, especially with the turbocharge of investment that will come from hosting the world’s biggest sporting event.
“As a proud Saudi, seeing the development of the country in the past decade or so, it’s been really amazing to see how Saudi Arabia has begun to open up to the world and introduce new things in society.
“And I feel because of this, Saudi Arabia deserves the opportunity to host the World Cup in 2034 to show the world what we’re capable of.
“A decade is still a long time away, and the country is improving on a daily basis. You can see vast improvement, so I’m excited to see where Saudi Arabia will be in the next decade by the time the World Cup comes around,” he added.
Having experienced first-hand the passion of Saudi fans for football throughout his two years at Al-Hilal, during which time he won two SPL titles with the Riyadh giants, Lee was nothing but supportive of Saudi Arabia hosting the tournament.
He said: “First of all, I think positively of the 2034 World Cup being held in Saudi Arabia.
“As I played in Saudi Arabia for two years, I realised how much the entirety of the nation loves and cares for the sport.
“Although there are many controversial opinions of the World Cup being hosted in the Middle East, the success of the 2022 Qatar World Cup shows how Saudi Arabia can achieve beyond what has been done,” Lee added.
He pointed out that like 2002 did for South Korea, hosting the tournament could catapult Saudi football to a new level.
“Although Saudi Arabia is one of the most prominent football teams in Asia, it still has a long way to go to achieve the top level of football.
“However, just like how the 2002 World Cup allowed South Korean football to grow a great deal, I believe that Saudi Arabia has the same potential to reach a higher level of football through the World Cup,” Lee said.
Having already tasted senior international football himself, Al-Ghamdi is one of a fresh generation that now has the prize of a home World Cup on the horizon.
This week, 16-year-old Talal Haji was named by Roberto Mancini in the senior team for the opening 2026 World Cup qualifiers against Pakistan and Jordan.
Every player 22 or under in Saudi Arabia now has even greater motivation to succeed in their career.
“Of course, I’ll put that as one of my benchmarks in my career, and hopefully I achieve it by that time, and it motivates me, and gives me a reason to go even harder, work more, give my best in all the games and practices.
“All the current generation are going to be aspiring to play in a World Cup in Saudi Arabia for the first time.
“So, I feel like the dreams and aspirations of everyone are going to exceed and when these factors exceed more is given, more investment, more effort, more attention, and, you never know where Saudi football will be by the time they host the World Cup.”
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