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Saudi Arabia were brilliant in qualifying to get to the FIFA World Cup. But is it over for them before it has even begun?

Saudi Arabia were brilliant in qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup but have it all to do in Group C after being handed tough tests against Argentina, Poland and Mexico. AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili

When the draw for the third round of Asian qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup was made, it was immediately apparent that one of the continent's traditional powerhouses would miss out on automatic qualification.

After all, three of them were drawn alongside one another with just two guaranteed berths up for grabs.

And out of Japan, Australia and Saudi Arabia, on paper at least, it seemed like the former two would be doing just that with the latter's best chance of getting to the World Cup finishing third in Group B and hoping to get it done via the playoffs.

- 2022 World Cup: All squad lists for Qatar
- World Cup team previews: Group C - Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland

Four games into the qualifying campaign, it was clear how wrong pre-competition estimates had been, with the Green Falcons the only team with a perfect record.

It was only on Match Day 8 that they finally tasted defeat with their only loss coming against Japan, and they would finish top of the group with a comfortable eight-point gap between them and the third-placed Socceroos.

Their reward for securing a second consecutive World Cup appearance with such consummate professionalism and relative ease?

Tantalising ties against Argentina, Poland and Mexico.

Yet, as much as the Saudi Arabia players will be licking their lips in anticipation of locking horns with opponents such as Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski, the luck of the draw -- and the quality of opposition it has pitted them against -- does mean the odds are firmly stacked against them if they are to qualify for the Round of 16 for the first time ever.

The Green Falcons already know what it is like to be given a rude awakening at the tournament. Four years ago, they were humiliated in the competition opener as hosts Russia ran riot in a 5-0 victory.

One can imagine that the opposition quality will be slightly higher next Tuesday when they begin their Qatar 2022 campaign against Messi and Argentina.

It hardly gets much easier against Poland four days later, while Mexico will be far from pushovers when Saudi Arabia finish off their Group C campaign on Dec. 1.

It also does not help that star attacker Fahad Al-Muwallad, who would have been their joint-highest scorer with 17 international goals to his name alongside Salem Al-Dawsari, was a late withdrawal as a precaution due to an ongoing doping case.

So what can they hope to achieve despite their qualification prospects already looking bleak before a ball is even kicked?

The fact of the matter remains that Saudi Arabia have been written off before -- and they have already thrived on proving their doubters wrong as recently as the qualifiers for this World Cup.

Even in Russia back in 2018, they were given no chance in their final game against a Mohamed Salah-led Egypt yet came from behind to win 2-1 and finish their campaign on a high.

There is quality at coach Herve Renard's disposal in the likes of and Salman Al-Faraj, as well as rising stars Firas Al-Buraikan and Sami Al-Najei.

Probably not enough to cause an upset against a team like Argentina or Poland, but certainly enough to make a name for themselves on the grandest of football stages and perhaps create an everlasting World Cup memory of their own in 2022.

Just like both Al-Dawsari and Al-Faraj did when they scored against Egypt four years ago, or when Saaed Al-Owairian ran from his own half through a sea of Belgium opponents to hand the Saudi Arabians a stunning win at the 1994 World Cup in their tournament debut.

In terms of reaching the Round of 16, perhaps Saudi Arabia's tournament is already over before it has even begun.

But they have made a habit of making their doubters look silly.

The Green Falcons certainly have plenty of reasons to soar high in Qatar over the next fortnight.