Saudi Arabia kicked off their last major training camp ahead of the 2022 World Cup with a 1-0 win over North Macedonia in Abu Dhabi on Saturday. Here are five things we learned from the whole event.
1. It’s Renard, not us, who will have done the apprenticeship
The match was played behind closed doors with no fans or media present and no spies from Argentina, Mexico or Poland. It was at the behest of coach Hervé Renard who wants to keep his World Cup cards very close to his chest with just a month to go before the opener against Argentina.
According to some comments in the North Macedonian media, the competition was tight, with both teams having had chances. It wasn’t the most intense football game ever played. It wasn’t against the strongest opposition either, as most of North Macedonia’s regular starters played for their clubs in Europe, but it gave the national players an opportunity to impress and claim their rights.
For Saudi Arabia, there is much more to come in the coming weeks and there is no point in doing it all now and peaking too soon. That’s how Renard tried to do things as coach of Zambia and Ivory Coast and it’s obviously a strategy he likes. The hope is that it works in Saudi Arabia and we can see it very soon.
2. A victory is welcome
This game was obviously a low-key, early warm-up, but the win was important and not just for confidence. After the impressive World Cup qualifying campaign, the Green Falcons hadn’t won a single game.
There were two defeats against Venezuela and Colombia, then scoreless draws with Ecuador and the United States. Had there been another failure to win, it would have become a problem for Renard to solve.
Now that’s off the agenda and the coach can go ahead without worrying too much about the results, although a few more wins in the next friendlies will be welcome.
3. Al-Shehri is back
One of the biggest problems facing the team is obvious: a lack of firepower in front of goal.
The four friendlies since qualifying have resulted in no Saudi goals with the saving grace that there have only been two conceded.
But with minutes to go, the comeback Saleh Al-Shehri scored. It was important because, as mentioned above, the Green Falcons have been struggling to find the net lately, but perhaps more important is that the Al-Hilal striker is back in form and new to scoring goals. An Achilles tendon injury had put the 28-year-old’s participation in the World Cup in doubt.
No longer. He may not have played much for his club lately, but with Saudi Arabia desperate for players who can put the ball in the back of the net, he will head to Qatar and could be the striker. incumbent.
4. Still worrying injury problems
There have been some major absences in recent weeks but there is still time to prepare ahead of the opener against Argentina.
Of course, there are the long-term injuries that have seen Al-Hilal pair Abdulelah Al-Malki and Al-Shehri sidelined for months. They are now back in action and have a chance to show Renard they are on their way back to equaling the sharpness with Al-Shehri in particular, doing just that on Saturday.
And then there’s Salem Al-Dawsari, Saudi Arabia’s best attacking player but who recently had his appendix removed. The Al-Hilal star is on the mend but it remains to be seen how much playing time he will get before the Argentina encounter, if at all. If the Green Falcons are to have a chance of success in Qatar, they need Al-Dawsari and fellow clubmate Salman Al-Faraj.
Renard had spoken about this before and said that in the first two games the focus would be on the position of the players and not putting too much stress on them at this stage.
“We will play with 11 players for 60 minutes, and we will play with 11 players and others for 30 minutes.” He was true to his word.
5. This is just the beginning of a great period of preparation
England, France and Spain are said to be keen on Saudi Arabia’s preparation plans for the World Cup. Major European leagues will stop for the tournament just a week before kick-off. They arrive in Qatar a few days before the start with little or no time to play warm-up matches.
This gives Saudi Arabia a major advantage over all other teams except Qatar as they have a month to prepare. These upcoming friendlies over the next few weeks are something to be welcomed and will cause jealousies among the other teams.