Saudi Arabia are gearing up for their first World Cup finals appearance since 2006 by sending players on loan to Spain to gain experience.

At least six players have joined Spanish clubs following an agreement between Spain’s La Liga and the Saudi federation.

Villarreal, Leganes and Levante from the top flight, alongside second division outfits Gijon, Valladolid and Rayo Vallecano, each simultaneously announced on Sunday they had signed a Saudi player.

Villarreal have taken winger Salem Al-Dawsari, attacking midfielder Yahia Al-Shehri has gone to Leganes while Levante have signed forward Fahad Al-Muwallad.

The loans come less than five months before the World Cup in Russia begins.

Saudi Arabia are in a group alongside the hosts, Uruguay and Egypt. On paper, Saudi Arabia seem to be the weakest team in the group.

For the Spanish clubs, the loans are a way to gain exposure in a little-tapped market.

“With Yahia Al-Shehri’s arrival, the club has improved its squad and also gained visibility in the Arab world,” Leganes said in a statement.

Spanish players union slams Saudi link-up

Spain’s footballers’ union (AFE) hit out on Monday at an agreement signed by the Spanish League that has seen a number of Saudi Arabian players arrive in Spain on loan.

“This new business model prioritises the economic aspect over the sporting one, sacrificing the essence of this sport and favouring business over the promotion and development of our footballers,” said AFE in a statement.

On Sunday, six Spanish clubs simultaneously announced they had each signed a Saudi player on loan following an agreement between the Spanish League and Saudifederation.

The Saudis want their players to gain top level experience ahead of their first World Cup appearance in 12 years in Russia later this year.

“This agreement impedes the development of young footballers and represents an obstacle to the opportunities for the youth academy, which isn’t always accorded this type of opportunity,” added AFE.

Nine Saudi players in total have joined Spanish first and second division teams on loan.

Saudi Arabia are in a World Cup group alongside the hosts, Uruguay and Egypt.

(With inputs from AFP)