Great expectations for Saudi Arabia's Green Falcons

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Sacking a coach less than a month before the Asian Cup because of defeat in the final of the Gulf Cup highlights the colossal expectations in Saudi Arabia when it comes to regional and continental footballing success.

Romanian Cosmin Olaroiu, who succeeded former Real Madrid boss Juan Ramon Lopez Caro in December, will now lead an experienced Saudi squad to Australia looking for a record-equaling fourth title in their ninth straight campaign.

The West Asian powerhouse reached the final at their first five attempts and again in 2007, claiming continental supremacy back-to-back in 1984 and 1988 and winning their third title by beating their Emirati hosts on penalties in the 1996 final.

Given such a track record of success, their last campaign four years ago was little short of a humiliation with the Green Falcons making the trip home from Qatar without a single point after a first round exit.

Frank Rijkaard was brought in as coach in 2011 after the Saudis failed to get into the decisive fourth round in Asian qualifying for last year's World Cup but the Dutchman was sent on his way after a first round exit at the 2013 Gulf Cup.

The Saudis plummeted as low as 126th in FIFA rankings in December 2012 but the signs for the future have been looking more promising since.

The senior side qualified for the Asian Cup unbeaten and drew with Uruguay in a friendly, while the under-23 team were runners up in the inaugural junior Asian Cup earlier this year, losing the final to Iraq.

Despite that youthful promise, Olaroiu has packed his squad with seasoned veterans, none more so than skipper Saud Kariri, who has represented his country some 125 times.

The 34-year-old midfielder, stalwart defender Osama Hawsawi and midfielder Taiseer Al-Jassam all provide links with the last Saudi side to reach the Asian Cup final in Jakarta in 2007, when they lost 1-0 to Iraq.

Added to that core are the likes of 2014 AFC Player of the Year Nassir Al-Shamrani, a prolific striker, and midfielder Nawaf Al-Abid, who was named player of the tournament at the Gulf Cup despite the Saudis losing to Qatar in the final.

Saudi Arabia open their campaign against China in Brisbane on Jan. 10 and also face Uzbekistan and North Korea in the opening round Group B.

Despite the disruption of the coaching change, the Saudis should have the quality to be one of the two teams to progress out of the group and have never previously fallen short of the final when they have reached the knockout stages.

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