Who does Saudi Arabia play in 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers?

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Saudi Arabia learned its 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifying fate on Thursday as the Green Falcons were handed a tough third round group that includes fellow Asian heavyweights Australia and Japan.

Roberto Mancini’ side, which labored to a second place finish behind Jordan in second-round qualifying, will need to improve if it is to claim a spot at the World Cup finals in the USA, Canada and Mexico in two years’ time.

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Drawn in Group C, the third of three six-team groups, Saudi Arabia will also face Bahrain, China and Indonesia as it bids to reach a seventh World Cup and third in a row. Here, Al Arabiya English runs the rule over the Green Falcons’ opponents.

Japan

The second most prolific Asian nation behind South Korea when it comes to FIFA World Cup appearances, the Blue Samurai has previously played at seven tournaments. At the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Japan stunned European giants Spain and Germany to top its group, but struggled to replicate that form at the recent Asian Cup, losing to Iran in the quarter-finals.

However, Japan was utterly dominant in second round 2026 World Cup qualifying, scoring a competition-high 24 goals and not conceding any as it bulldozed a group containing North Korea, Syria and Myanmar with six wins from six matches.

Japan and Saudi Arabia have unsurprisingly met a number of times and also did battle in the final round qualifying for each of the past two World Cups; in both campaigns, the Green Falcons won at home but lost away. A 0-0 draw with Japan in 1993 helped Saudi Arabia famously finish a point ahead of its opponent and qualify for the 1994 FIFA World Cup at its expense.

This Japan team will be a much tougher proposition, with the nation’s most recent squad containing 21 players who ply their club trade in Europe, including Arsenal's Takehiro Tomiyasu and Liverpool midfielder Wataru Endo, who is captain of the Blue Samurai.

When they play: Saudi Arabia vs Japan (H) - October 22, 2024; Saudi Arabia vs Japan (A) - March 25, 2025

Australia

Saudi Arabi .and Australia have faced off in each of the past three FIFA World Cup qualifying campaigns, with the Socceroos denying the Green Falcons a place at the 2014 tournament after winning home and away in the second round. In 2018, Saudi Arabia edged out Australia on goal difference only to reach the tournament in Russia, though the Socceroos did ultimately qualify through a play-off.

Last time out in the race for the 2022 World Cup, Saudi Arabia finished above both Australia and Japan to top its final qualification group thanks to a dramatic 1-0 victory over the Socceroos in Jeddah in the very last game. The two nations meet again in the final match this time too. Like Japan, Australia sailed through its second round group with a 100 percent record, winning home and away against Palestine, Bangladesh and Lebanon, with Portsmouth striker Kusini Yengi top-scoring for the Socceroos after netting four goals across the final three group games

When they play: Saudi Arabia vs Australia (A) - November 14, 2024; Saudi Arabia vs Australia (H) - June 10, 2025

Bahrain

Bahrain has advanced to the knockout stage of the past two Asian Cups and won its group at the most recent edition ahead of South Korean and Jordan. It was runner-up behind UAE in its second round 2026 World Cup qualifying group, recovering from a 0-0 home draw with Yemen and progressing after holding UAE to a 1-1 draw in Dubai in June.

Bahrain has never reached the FIFA World Cup, coming agonizingly short on two occasions - falling at the final hurdle in consecutive inter-continental playoff defeats to Trinidad and Tobago and then New Zealand for the 2006 and 2010 tournaments respectively.

Unsurprisingly given they are neighbors, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have had many historic contests - though the two nations have not met since the Green Falcons suffered a 1-0 loss at the 2019 Gulf Cup. Although Saudi Arabia has more wins historically, it has only claimed victories in three of its past 10 matches against Bahrain, losing four in that time stretching back to 2008.

When they play: Saudi Arabia vs Bahrain (H) - October 15, 2024; Saudi Arabia vs Bahrain (A) - June 5, 2025

China

Remarkably for a nation of its size, China has never won the Asian Cup and only once qualified for the FIFA World Cup - losing all three of its matches without scoring a goal at the 2002 tournament. Its squad tends to be made up of domestic players only and China has struggled to make a footballing mark in recent memory.

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It made it through to the final round of qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup but came up substantially short in the end, finishing 17 points behind group winners Saudi Arabia with just six points from 10 games. Even in this current qualification campaign, China only made it through the second round after edging out Thailand on head-to-head record after the two teams finished on identical points and goal difference.

China, currently led by ex-Iran and Oman coach Branko Ivankovic, lost away to the Green Falcons and drew at home during qualifying for the 2022 World Cup. Saudi Arabia’s only defeat to China since 1997 was a 1-0 Asian Cup group stage reverse in 2015.

When they play: Saudi Arabia vs China (A) - September 10, 2024; Saudi Arabia vs China (H) - March 20, 2025

Indonesia

The second-lowest ranked team left in AFC qualifying, ahead of Kuwait, Indonesia is an utterly football-obsessed nation but has a mammoth task ahead if it is to reach its first FIFA World Cup since its sole appearance way back in 1938. Indonesia finished second to Iraq in the second round of 2026 qualifying earlier this month, shaking off a 5-1 hammering by the Lions of Mesopotamia in its opening game to beat out Vietnam and the Philippines to the runner-up spot.

After a 16-year absence from the Asian Cup, Indonesia returned to the tournament in January and reached the last-16 under the leadership of ex-South Korea midfielder - and later national team coach - Shin Tae-yong, who has been at the Indonesia helm since 2020. But Saudi Arabia boasts an emphatic head-to-head record against Indonesia, with 11 wins and one draw from 12 previous meetings. The Green Falcons most recently won home and away against Indonesia in qualifying for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, while the sole failure to win came in a 0-0 friendly draw in 2011.

When they play: Saudi Arabia vs Indonesia (H) - September 5, 2024; Saudi Arabia vs Indonesia (A) - November 19, 2024

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