Hervé Renard’s Saudi squad offer plenty of options for vital World Cup qualifiers against Japan, China
RIYAD: The Saudi Arabian team was named, but it was the easy part. The next two weeks will reveal whether the Green Falcons are on track for the 2022 World Cup or whether they’re going to face a setback to get there.
Qatar’s final qualifying round kicked off in September with double wins in Group B against Vietnam and Oman. While the victories were expected, they were hard fought and should not be underestimated. There are, however, more difficult tests just around the corner.
The hardest part is the following. He comes on October 7 against the best team on the continent, Japan. Five days later, it’s a clash against China, a team that had high expectations but are hurt and desperate after two out of two losses.
With six points on the table after two games (tied with Australia), three in front of Japan, and six in front of China to zero, HervÃ© Renard’s men are looking good. Four points from the next two games, both in Jeddah, would be formidable while six would be sensational and give the team a foothold in Qatar.
Only the first two of the group of six teams qualify automatically. Finish third and there are the play-offs but, just like the race to Russia in 2018, it goes without saying that Saudi Arabia will want to stay in the top two places.
There were few surprises in the 25-man squad named by Renard on Monday. Salem Al-Dossari is out. The wide Al-Hilal player is injured and it’s a big blow considering he’s been one of the team’s best players for quite some time, especially in the first two games of the third round. His artistry, in terms of creating chances, as well as his goal threat will be a huge dud.
Al-Ahli’s Abdulrahman Ghareeb could step in, but with Abdulrahman Al-Obud in good shape this season, the Al-Ittihad winger could get the green light for his first start.
As important as Al-Dossari is, his fellow scorer in that 2-1 win over Egypt in the last World Cup was Salman Al-Faraj, and his fitness is also a topic of discussion. The stylish midfielder injured his foot in Al-Hilal’s AFC Champions League victory over Esteghlal in mid-September. The captain hasn’t played since but has the experience and the ability to make sure that won’t be a problem.
The midfielder will be vital against Japan, a team who like to take control of this area and pass the ball there to create chances. Abdullah Otayf’s presence in this region will be missed as the man from Al-Hilal was injured against Vietnam and is still absent.
Against Oman, Abdulelah Al-Malki, who performed well with Al-Ittihad, teamed up with Mohammed Kanoo. Al-Hilal’s man offers a physical presence in the middle but lacks Otayf’s composure when in possession. However, against the impressive Japanese midfielder, his energy, physical presence and industry could make the difference.
In Renard’s 4-2-3-1 formation, the full-backs have a big role to play. Sultan Al-Ghannam has appropriated the right-back position, and with Yasser Al-Shahrani on the other side in great form already this season for Al-Hilal – especially in the future where he can show his ability. crossover – Saudi Arabia has one of the best deals in Asia.
The same cannot be said of Japan anymore with Yuto Nagatomo, 35, who has failed to impress so far in both games. Al-Ittihad’s skilled winger Fahad Al-Muwallad will believe his chances. With goals in both games so far, Saleh Al-Shehri is likely to get the nod as a forward and while Renard will be concerned about the 27-year-old’s lack of minutes for Al-Hilal, there isn’t much he can do about the domination of foreign attackers in the league.
In the goal is likely to be Mohammed Al-Owais. Al-Ahli’s No.1 may be struggling this season but remains arguably the best goalkeeper in the country. In front of him in the first two qualifiers were Al-Nassr’s central defensive duo of Abdullah Mado and Abdulelah Al-Amari; both flourished under Renard, although the latter was responsible for Vietnam’s goal.
The French manager is clearly not calling them on the back of a club deal, as they have yet to play together this season for Al-Nassr with Argentina’s Ramiro Funes Mori as the starter.
After losing to Oman in the first game and then beating China, Japan need something from their trip to Jeddah. Even with Hajime Moriyasu relatively cautious, the Samurai Blue will be looking to take all three points. That should suit Saudi Arabia under Renard with its counterattack capability.
Japan will be deprived of their former Real Madrid player Takefusa Kubo, but he will still have a strength in depth that no other team in Asia can match. China will face Vietnam on Thursday and the failure to win will surely spell the end of their already slim hopes of finishing in the top two.
These two games are crucial for everyone involved and when that is over there will be a much clearer picture of who is where on the road in Qatar.