15. Nawaf Al-Abed (New Entry)
Al-Hilal (KSA) / Saudi Arabia / Attacking Midfield
Words by Hamoudi Fayad
Nawaf Al-Abed experienced a great revival in the second half of 2016 when he showed up to become one of the best Saudi players of this present season up until now and arguably his club side’s, Al-Hilal, key player. In attacking midfield or on the wing, Al-Abed has shown that he is capable of being the vital final third player that Al-Hilal and Saudi Arabia oh so need. Sure, the comparisons to Omar Abdulrahman are still way off, but on his day Al-Abed has looked nothing short of world- (well, continent-) class.
Al-Abed is currently indispensable to the Saudi National Team. When the going got tough and Saudi Arabia failed to open the defences of Thailand and Iraq – two of the relatively weaker teams in the World Cup Qualification group – it was Al-Abed who stepped up and scored 2-game winning penalties in 2 games (3 penalties in total, as he scored the equaliser against Iraq) for the Greens. So much for a player who is known to be very ill-disciplined; Al-Abed was calm, cool and the man for Saudi Arabia. Against the United Arab Emirates, he played a part in the 3-0 thrashing with a lovely finish into the top corner to put Saudi Arabia 2-0 up.
Al-Hilal’s position at the top of the table has largely been thanks to his exploits. In 2015/16, Al-Abed’s ill-discipline led to him scoring 1 in a mere 11 games, although he did create 6 goals for his teammates. Come 2016/17 and Al-Abed has scored 5 in 10 games and created 4, showcasing his ability to lead the side from all aspects. That’s what has made Nawaf the improved player he is today: confidence in front of goal, brilliant technique, ability to keep the ball in tight spaces and an improvement in his leadership skills.
Highlight: THAT assist against Australia
In what would be my personal favourite for West Asia’s goal of the year, Al-Abed left Saudi fans’ jaws wide open when he demolished the Australian defence before setting up Yahya Al-Shehri who would create Taisir Al-Jassim’s goal. Yes, it was technically Al-Shehri’s assist, but Al-Abed created the goal after great dictation of the ball in tight spaces, something he has developed over the course of 2016. Exquisite.