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Fans jubilant as Saudi Arabia reach World Cup

Riyadh (AFP) – Jubilant soccer fans celebrated after Saudi Arabia qualified for next year’s World Cup, with many rallying behind Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s reform program that promotes sports in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

Saudi Arabia stunned Japan on Tuesday to reach their first World Cup since 2006, with a 1-0 victory in Jeddah that consigned Australia to the play-offs.

The win prompted the government to release a new poster for its reform plan, dubbed Vision 2030, with an image of a smiling Prince Salman flashing the victory sign and embossed with the words “Ready for the Future”.

“With high spirits and unlimited support, the face of luck supports the Saudi team to reach the World Cup,” the government tweeted on its official Vision 2030 page.

“We congratulate our king for qualifying and the nation for its youth.”

Prince Salman, often known as MbS, is the chief architect of Vision 2030, an economic and social diversification plan which he released last year to wean the kingdom off oil.

The plan calls for more entertainment, cultural and sports opportunities in a nation where more than half the population is under 25, an Internet-savvy generation that spends much of its life online away from official strictures.

The hashtag “MbS is the face of luck” soon started gaining traction on social media, with many lauding the team’s victory courtesy of half-time substitute Fahad Al Muwallad’s winning goal.

The livewire forward smashed his shot past a static Eiji Kawashima of Japan to take the Saudis to their fifth World Cup.

“The crazy, pulsating excitement you are experiencing right now is unforgettable… It is to celebrate this win as the nation’s accomplishment,” one Saudi fan said on Twitter.

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