HONG KONG (Reuters) - What Yahya Al Shehri lacks in stature he more than makes up for in influence in the Saudi Arabia side that is heading to the World Cup finals in Russia.
Standing at just 1.6 meters tall, the versatile attacker plays a major role in the creation and scoring of opportunities for Saudi Arabia and he was a central figure in the country’s qualification for the World Cup for the first time since 2006.
Although capable of playing on the wing, Al Shehri is most effective when given license to roam behind lone striker Mohammed Al Sahlawi.
He can often be seen dropping deep to collect the ball from defensive midfielder Abdullah Otayf or the center backs in an attempt to start Saudi Arabia’s attacking moves.
The 27-year-old is currently on the books of Riyadh’s Al Nassr, who signed him from Al Ettifaq in 2013 for a Saudi-record 48 million riyals ($12.80 million).
In January, though, Al Shehri was farmed out on loan to Leganes in Spain’s La Liga in an attempt to give him more exposure to a higher standard of play in the lead-up to the World Cup.
That move, however, has backfired with Al Shehri unable to force his way into the matchday squad for the Spanish club and the resulting lack of match sharpness could have a negative impact on both Al Shehri’s and Saudi Arabia’s hopes.
Should he manage to reclaim the form he has shown throughout the qualifying campaign, though, Al Shehri will be key to Saudi Arabia’s ability to unlock opposing defenses with his energy, trickery and eye for a telling pass.
Editing by Nick Mulvenney