AFC Asian Cup quarter-final preview - RSL's deep Australian roots

The Roshn Saudi League will be represented on Friday in the quarter-finals of the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023, when Australia take on South Korea.

Al Wehda forward Craig Goodwin now has compatriot Aziz Behich to share stories with of the Saudi top tier, after the defender made the move to Al Nassr at the very end of the winter transfer window.

Ahead of the Asian Cup last-eight encounter at Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah, we delve deep into Australia's connection with the RSL, looking at the numerous players from Down Under who have called the Kingdom their home.

Craig Goodwin - Al Wehda & Abha (2019-21 & 2023-)

The experienced winger returned to Al Wehda from Adelaide United this season having previously played in the RSL with the club and Abha between 2019 and 2021.

The 31-year-old arrived back in the Kingdom having won the Johnny Warren Medal as the MVP of Australia’s A-League in the 2022-23 season, and on the back of a successful FIFA World Cup with Australia.

There, Goodwin scored against France and helped Australia reach the Round of 16 for only the second time in their history. He has wasted no time upon his return to Mecca, with five goals in his first eight matches.

Brad Jones - Al Nassr (2018-21)

The veteran goalkeeper was a hugely popular figure at Al Nassr during his three-year stint with the Riyadh club, and remains dearly loved by the fans more than two years after leaving to return to Australia.

Jones arrived at Al Nassr after a distinguished career in Europe, playing for the likes of Liverpool, Feyenoord and Middlesbrough, winning the League Cup in England twice, and the Dutch Eredivisie once.

Joining in 2018, he played a leading role as Al Nassr went on to win the 2018-19 RSL title, keeping 11 clean sheets, as well as helping the club to the Saudi Super Cup in 2019 and 2020.

Milos Degenek – Al Hilal (2018–19)

A veteran of two FIFA World Cup campaigns, in 2018 and 2022, Degenek joined the Riyadh giants during the AFC Asian Cup in 2019 having previously played in Germany, Japan and Serbia.

A rugged defender, Degenek wasted little time in making himself a fan favourite, and while his time in the capital ended after only six months, he made a lasting impression on the club and the fans - and they with him.

“Forever grateful for the chance. Loved it and I’ll always call Al Hilal home,” he wrote on social media, also referring to the club as his “second family”.

Mark Milligan – Al Ahli (2017–18)

One of the most capped players in Australia’s history (80 caps), Milligan enjoyed a glittering career in Australia with Sydney FC, Newcastle Jets and Melbourne Victory before arriving in Jeddah at the start of 2018.

Narrowly missing out on the title to Al Hilal by one point, Milligan played 17 games in total across the league and AFC Champions League, before departing the club for an opportunity in Scotland.

Now retired, he is the assistant coach at Adelaide United, most recently working with current Al Wehda star Craig Goodwin.

Mitchell Duke – Al Taawoun (2020–21)

Now one of the first players selected for the Australian national team, Duke joined an elite group when he scored for Australia at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar; his glancing header helping secure a vital 1-0 win over Tunisia.

After a decade playing in Australia and Japan, where he enjoyed four seasons with Shimizu S-Pulse, Duke moved to Buraidah to join Al Taawoun ahead of the 2020-21 season.

While he featured only 12 times, it was a successful season for the club as they qualified for the AFC Champions League and also made the knockout rounds in the same competition, with Duke scoring the only goal in an important 1-0 win over Al Duhail.

Martin Boyle – Al Faisaly (2021–22)

The Scottish-born winger is an important cog of the current Socceroos attack, and while he has returned to his native Scotland, he enjoyed a six-month spell with Al Faisaly in the second half of the 2021-22 season.

Embarking on their first AFC Champions League campaign, Al Faisaly signed Boyle as their nominated +1 player from the AFC, scoring once as Al Faisaly topped their group to reach the knockout rounds.

With Al Faisaly relegated at the end of the season, Boyle moved back to Scotland where he still plays with Hibernian.

Dimitri Petratos – Al Wehda (2020–21)

Replacing his Australian compatriot, Craig Goodwin, in Mecca, Petratos had a very successful season after joining from A-League side Newcastle Jets.

While it was a disappointing campaign for the club, relegated from the RSL after finishing 15th, Petratos was one of the standouts, finishing as their second-leading scorer with nine goals from 28 appearances.

After the relegation, Petratos returned to Australia, joining 2014 AFC Champions League champions Western Sydney Wanderers.

Matthew Jurman – Al Ittihad (2018–19)

After 18 successful months in South Korea with Suwon Bluewings, Al Ittihad swooped to sign the Australian international ahead of the 2018-19 season.

In a difficult season for Al Ittihad, in which they just avoided relegation, Jurman featured 11 times in the league and a further six in the AFC Champions League before opting to return home to Australia to join Western Sydney Wanderers.

James Troisi – Al Ittihad (2015–16)

Best remembered for his winning goal in the final of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup as Australia defeated South Korea in extra-time, Troisi secured a loan move to the Jeddah giants just months after that historic night.

Having once been on the books of both Newcastle United and Juventus, without ever playing for either, his time in Saudi Arabia was cut short after only eight appearances. Troisi went on to enjoy a successful career in the A-League, most notably with Melbourne Victory.

Rhys Williams – Al Qadsiah (2018–21)

One of the most popular Socceroos in recent memory, Williams enjoyed a stellar career in the UK, playing almost 150 games for Middlebrough before returning to Australia with Perth Glory and Melbourne Victory.

He joined Al Qadsiah in the 2018-19 campaign, staying with the club after their relegation and helping them earn promotion back to the RSL for the 2020-21 season. After three seasons with the club, he returned to Australia to captain Western Sydney Wanderers.

Jack Duncan – Al Qadsiah (2018–19)

Joining Rhys Williams in the Eastern Province for the 2018-19 season was rising Australian goalkeeper, Duncan.

A youth international for Australia, he had established himself as a regular with Newcastle Jets in the A-League before taking the opportunity with Al Qadsiah.

Despite playing almost every game between the sticks, he wasn’t able to help the club stave off relegation.

Osama Malik – Al Batin (2018–19)

A former Australian youth international of Sudanese descent, Malik had established himself as one of the best central midfielders in the A-League with Adelaide United and Melbourne City before earning his opportunity with Al Batin at the start of 2019.

While he made only eight appearances to round out the season, he was helpless to stop their relegation after finishing 15th.

Jonathan McKain – Al Nassr (2010–11)

An experienced Australian international, McKain played for Australia at both the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup and 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

McKain was a regular for Al Nassr during a difficult 2010-11 season, finishing fifth and outside the qualification places for the AFC Champions League. He returned to Australia at the end of the season, joining Adelaide United.

Adam Griffiths – Al Shabab (2009–10)

Midfielder Griffiths was the first Australian player to venture west to join the RSL when he signed for Riyadh’s Al Shabab from Gold Coast United in 2009.

While Al Shabab finished a respectable fourth that season, Griffiths, a hardened midfielder also capable of playing in defence, returned to Australia before the end of the season, joining up with Adelaide United for their AFC Champions League campaign.