The 2023 Asia Cup started on January 12. Saudi Arabia coach Roberto Mancini made a sudden change in the Asia Cup team after the start of the tournament. The former Euro-winning Italy striker has dropped Ayman Yahia, Abbas Al-Hasan and Nawaf Al-Aqidi in their hopes of winning the Asia Cup.
He was filled by Mohammad Al-Buraik, Mohammad Al-Yamani and Talal Haji. Among them, getting a place in the present team has raised quite a stir. Talal, who celebrated his 16th birthday on September 16, is yet to make his debut in the national team.
Of course, this is not the first time Haji is being discussed. He was also called up by Mancini for the World Cup qualifiers last November. Although Haji was called to the national team at the age of only 16 years and 57 days, he could not make a record. Because Ahmed Jamil made his debut for Saudi Arabia in 1986 at the age of 16 years and 53 days. Jamil has played 117 international matches for Saudi Arabia.
Like Jamil, Talal Haji played for Al Ittihad. At the age of 14, he caught the eye of the team’s scouts. Haji, who earned a place in Al-Ittihad’s U-17 squad, was also called up to Saudi Arabia’s U-17 squad. He did not take time to become the main striker of the team even at the national level.
Haji scored a tournament-high seven goals to lead Saudi Arabia to the semi-finals of the 2022 Arab Under-17 Championship. He also led Saudi Arabia to the quarter-finals of the U-17 Asia Cup the following year.
Quickly understood, appeared to have the ability to play at a higher level. He was called up to the U-23 team last October. He is the new Majid Abdullah-Saudi Arabia’s all-time top goalscorer to coach Bandar Al Zaythan. Comparing a 16-year-old teenager with a striker who scored 72 goals in the national team in 117 matches did not seem excessive to anyone.
Last March, the club’s main team coach Nuno Santos called Haji to practice with the first team. In the new season, the appearance of the club has changed. Champions League and World Cup winning footballers like Karim Benzema, N’Golo Titke and Fabinho have joined the team. However, he got a place in the main squad.
On September 21, at the age of 16 years and 5 days, Haji set a record for debuting as the youngest player in the Saudi Pro League. But the coach did not debut him even though he got an opponent like Pakistan in the national team.
But after the start of the Asia Cup, Mancini surprised Talal Haji by calling him. Saudi Arabia’s tournament begins next Tuesday against Oman. Their partners in Group Six are Thailand and Kyrgyzstan.