Abdulrahman Inayat*

Co-Founder and Director of Multiple Award-Winning Independent Marketing Communications Consultancy Agency W7Worldwide

The euphoric win pulled off by Saudi Arabia by beating Argentina 2-1, will go down in the history of both Saudi football and FIFA World Cup itself. It has brought the Kingdom enormous global attention, immense pride, and a whole lot of debate.

Indeed, the Saudi victory is not just historic but a watershed moment. If Saudi citizens term the win as the “dawn of a new era,” Arabs, in general, see the win as theirs owing to pan-Arab unity. Soccer fans across the region regard it as a coming-of-age event while political analysts have already begun attributing the win to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. (Remember his inspiring speech before the game started?)

Saudi Minister for Sports Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal said in an interview with CNN: “We surprised everyone, and what a surprise it was! It was unbelievable. It was a world-class performance despite facing all the criticisms about Saudi sports.”

The victory came not without huge efforts that were put in to get the results. Prince Abdulaziz said: “We’ve invested a lot in sports in the last couple of years, and the results prove it … we are really restructuring sports in the Kingdom as an ecosystem, and aim to make it as professional as it is anywhere else in the world, because we know Saudis are passionate about sports.”

Before we evaluate what the win means for Saudi Arabia and its brand abroad, we need to understand why the soccer match matters most when it comes to global attention and has become a talking point worldwide.

Though we are yet to have full stats as to how many viewers globally watched the Nov. 22 match, we do have data to support the titanic importance of the game.

For example, in a small country like Bangladesh, more than 10 million viewers watched the Saudi Arabia-Argentina match on the Toffee app. According to TGM Global World Cup Survey, 85.3% of Saudis watched the match on Tuesday. Nearly 63.3% of Saudis are estimated to have watched it on TV or an online streaming platform, while 26.6% of Saudi fans went to Qatar to watch the World Cup live.

The power and reach of soccer games can be measured by the simple fact that more than 3.5 billion people watched the last World Cup matches, played in 2018.

So, how do we assess such a mammoth event that attracts nearly half of the world’s attention? In terms of the public relations campaign for a country’s branding, it is huge — possibly requiring billions of dollars in budget and years of planning before launching the brand promotions. This is what Saudi Arabia has achieved by way of just one win. More than half of the world today is talking about Saudi Arabia, extending the debate to its leaders, people, culture, and tourist attractions.

Most newspapers are agog with what Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said to his team in a televised message before the match: All I want to tell you is stay relaxed, play your game and do your thing… What I care about is that you enjoy these three games… I do not want any of you to play under psychological pressure that affects your natural level.”

These few words will remain etched in the minds of many as an example of a leader navigating a ship out of a storm and they seem to have spurred the Falcon boys — the underdogs — to maul the tigers, snatching the win from their jaws.

In terms of branding, the victory came riding on Saudi Arabia’s rising national brand value. According to Brand Finance Middle East, the value of the national brand of Saudi Arabia has increased by 7% to $768 billion. Andrew Campbell, managing director of Brand Finance Middle East, said that the Saudi value has grown “significantly” thanks to its efforts to open up to the world.


Saudi Arabia’s striking success at Qatar’s Lusail Stadium on Tuesday must have come as a shocker to all soccer fans in the Arab World. At the end of the day, everyone – from fans to sports experts and media commentators – should realize that it is more than just a match that we are celebrating. The win has not only lifted the morale of Arabs on the street but has also brought positive focus on the Kingdom’s leadership as well as boosted the country’s national brand value. It’s only a matter of time before we accurately calculate the actual value this single win has added to the Kingdom’s reputation the world over.