Renard aiming to match 1994 Saudi peak

 Renard aiming to match 1994 Saudi peak
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Saudi Arabia qualified for Qatar 2022 in style. The task for head coach Herve Renard is to steer the nation beyond the opening phase for the first time since their debut appearance in 1998.
  • Saudi Arabia set for sixth World Cup

  • Argentina, Poland and Mexico stand in way of last 16

  • Head coach Herve Renard led Morocco in Russia four years ago

Saudi Arabia will travel to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ intent on matching their best performance in the competition: qualification for the last 16 in the USA 28 years ago. The Green Falcons have undergone a major transformation since appearing at Russia 2018, with a new coaching team in place and several fresh faces having broken into the side. Despite beating AFC heavyweights Japan and Australia in the course of a relatively straight forward qualification campaign, Herve Renard’s side have come under the microscope for issues in front of goal of late.

Salem Aldawsari Goal 90’+5′ | Saudi Arabia v Egypt | 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™
Watch every single goal from the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.

The Saudis lost a pair of June friendlies, against Colombia and Venezuela, by the same 1-0 scoreline. Three months later, meetings with Ecuador and USA both finished goalless. There have been encouraging signs nonetheless in Saudi Arabia’s form as they begin their World Cup preparations in earnest. A 1-0 success against North Macedonia on 22 October was followed four days later by a 1-1 draw with Albania. Renard’s team have the unenviable task of opening their Qatar campaign against Argentina. They subsequently tackle Robert Lewandowski and Poland, then complete their Group C programme with a game against Mexico.

Saudi Arabia’s Group C fixtures

22 November Argentina-Saudi Arabia (13:00 local time, Lusail Stadium) 26 November Poland-Saudi Arabia (16:00 local time, Education City Stadium) 30 November Saudi Arabia-Mexico (22:00 local time, Lusail Stadium)

Herve Renard’s approach and tactics

The Frenchman, who was in charge of Morocco at the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018™, is expected to employ his favoured direct, attacking style in Qatar. Formerly head coach of Ivory Coast and Zambia, Renard was a stoppage-time equaliser from masterminding victory for Morocco over Spain at the competition four years ago. Additionally, he defied considerable odds to lead Zambia to glory at the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations.

Renard’s preference is for the 4-3-2-1 formation he used frequently in qualifying for Qatar 2022, though he deployed a 4-3-3 system for those June and September warm-ups. Renard uses the speed of his wide men to implement his attacking gameplan, while his approach to defence is based on a high line and an intense pressing game. It was a blend that worked well for the Saudis in the Asian qualifying competition when they lost just once. Results in friendly matches have been patchy. But memories of warm-up games will rapidly fade once the World Cup is under way, even more so should Renard’s approach pay off against Argentina, Poland and Mexico.

Key player: Salem Al-Dawsari

Renard has a lot of faith in his wingers and their speed and skills on the ball, not least in Salem Al-Dawsari, the Green Falcons’ most important player. Thanks to the talent and form he has shown for the national team and for his club, Al Hilal, Al-Dawsari is expected to have a big role to play in Qatar. Capable of playing virtually anywhere in attack – left wing, right wing, attacking midfielder, and second centre-forward – Al Dawsari has excellent vision and a gift for playing killer final balls.

Salman Alfaraj Goal 45’+6′ | Saudi Arabia v Egypt | 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™
Watch every single goal from the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.

He was on target from the penalty spot to settle Saudi Arabia’s closing Qatar 2022 qualifying fixture with Australia. The most valuable player of the 2021 AFC Champions League, Al-Dawsari needs to score twice to draw level with Sami Al-Jaber’s Saudi Arabia three-goal World Cup record. Though he missed his side’s September warm-up matches, the forward is due to return in time for Qatar 2022 and prove one of Saudi Arabia’s most influential figures.

One to watch: Firas Al-Buraikan

One of the youngest players in the Saudi set-up, 22-year-old Al-Buraikan seems destined for a long international career, a suspicion heightened by his status as one of few homegrown centre-forwards in Saudi domestic football. Renard handed Al-Buraikan his first cap in October 2019 and invested a lot of faith and time into preparing him for Qatar 2022. Al-Buraikan was the leading Saudi marksman in the national league last season. He works hard to build the play and is a willing runner down the flanks, which makes him a perfect fit for Renard’s gameplan. He will be the focus of much attention in Qatar.

Saudi Arabia at the World Cup

In five World Cup appearances, the Green Falcons have progressed beyond the group stage only once, on their competition debut at USA 1994. The second most successful side in the history of the AFC Asian Cup and runners-up at the 1992 FIFA Confederations Cup, the Saudis have struggled to replicate their confederation success on the global stage. The Saudis are hoping World Cup appearance number six – in the Arab world only Tunisia and Morocco can match that record – will prove more fruitful than campaigns in 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2018 and that their French coach can steer them into the knockout phase. Saudi Arabia have won only three of their 16 World Cup matches to date and scored 11 goals. Their top marksman in the competition is Sami Al-Jaber, with three. Al-Jaber is also the only Saudi player to have found the back of the net at different World Cups, having divided his goals between the competitions in USA, France and Germany.

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Dahiana Camilo

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