Mohammed Al Sahlawi and Salman Muwashar were both on the scoresheet as Saudi Arabia saw off Thailand 3-0 in Bangkok on Thursday to remain ahead of Japan on goal difference and move three points in front of third-placed Australia.
And a second win in just under a week when the Gulf state host second-bottom Iraq would leave Bert van Marwijk’s team in a strong position to advance to a first FIFA World Cup since 2006.
“I think we have done well so far and I believe we will be able to qualify for the next World Cup,” Al Hilal defender Al Shahrani told the AFC website.
“For me personally that would mean a lot because I have never qualified with the national team, so God willing, this dream will be fulfilled.”
After missing Saudi Arabia’s opening four Group B encounters, Al Shahrani returned to the squad for the 2-1 defeat to Japan in November, before helping his side get back to winning ways by seeing off Thailand at Rajamangala Stadium on Matchday Six.
Saudi Arabia claimed all three points from the reverse fixture with Iraq but needed a pair of Nawaf Al Abid penalties in the final 10 minutes, the second with two minutes remaining, to secure a hard-fought 2-1 victory.
And after suffering three successive defeats in their opening Group B games, Iraq have responded well by posting four points from the ensuing three matches, including a 1-1 draw with Australia on Thursday.
“There are no easy opponents and we look at all the national teams equally,” added the 24-year-old. “We will do our best to qualify for the World Cup and I’m confident we can make it.”
The home fixture against Iraq comes ahead of crunch ties away to Australia and the United Arab Emirates in June and August, games that may well determine the Saudis’ automatic qualification hopes.
“At the moment we’re only taking into account of the next game,” said Shahrani. “But we know we have away games with Australia and the UAE before the final match at home to Japan. We will think about each game as it comes.”