A return to qualifying for the 2022 World Cup after 502 days is pressure for the underutilized Saudi Arabian boss Herve Renard.
The international game has been uniquely affected by the coronavirus crisis due to quarantine and travel restrictions. The Frenchman’s ongoing tour through the grounds of the Saudi Professional League, which is carefully and enthusiastically documented on his Instagram account, can only partially satisfy the desire for real action.
His Green Falcons, at the time of writing, are fortunate enough to play one of three competitive games across the AFC region this month when visiting Palestine on March 30th.
The two friendlies against Jamaica in November are indeed the only games the two-time African Cup of Nations has played in more than a year. A feeling of frustration must be overwhelming.
Renard’s response to his management comeback is intriguing. Will he embark on a conservative streak with his second charges in Group D, albeit with a game against Uzbekistan in hand, or take a belated opportunity to inject fresh blood into a group showing signs of old age?
His decisions for the Riyadh training camp, which precedes the friendly against Kuwait on March 25 and the ensuing clash with the Lions of Canaan, will set the tone for the challenges ahead.
The original 22-man roster for the double-headed ball against Jamaica included 14 players with single-digit caps. Encouragement after a 3-0 win over Reggae Boyz’s second string was tempered by the 2-1 defeat when Bayer Leverkusen’s star Leon Bailey was released.
This was a continuation of the experimental selection of the 24thth Golf Cup. The heights reached in the 1-0 semi-final win against hosts Qatar were crushed in the 0-1 defeat against uneducated Bahrain. This result throws an uncertain light on his emerging tenure.
The Jamaica squad can also be seen closely. Ettifaq defender Saeed Al Rubaie was the only player selected who was not part of an established SPL heavyweight division.
Talent is deep in Asia’s second strongest domestic competition. Renard should have access to it.
This shouldn’t be ignored by the giants. Al Nassr’s unprotected Abdulelah Al Amri has excelled as a center-back during a difficult season, as has the extremely talented 20-year-old winger Khalid Al Ghannam.
Both deserve a senior debut.
Leader Al Shabab’s defender Ahmed Sharahili has also made a strong case for breaking away from a “one-cap miracle”.
Perspectives from the broader SPL must come into Renard’s mind.
Former Saudi U23 winger Hassan Al Amri has shone in big time. The 26-year-old has eleven goals more than fellow countryman Salem Al Dawsari and just three short of leading assists number of eight set by Al Hilal’s new boy Abdullah Al Hamdan.
Al Fateh sits a seat outside the drop zone but offers two exciting options.
Striker Ali Al Zaqan has scored five goals and made three assists. 21-year-old right-back Nawaf Boushal was the league’s choice in his position. This was underlined by the privateer run and the low result in the 4-0 win against Ettifaq in November.
Ittihad’s Saud Abdulhamid isn’t the only youthful full-back in the kingdom with immense promises.
Her strong form goes well with Hilal’s right-back Mohammed Al Breik, who is not at his best.
Ettifaq’s electric winger Mohammed Al Kuwaykibi is fully fit again and is nearing top form with three goals and one assist in his last four SPL spurs. His unpredictable nature and lively dribbling provide willing foil to the indispensable Al Dawsari.
At the age of 26, it is now time to increase the five-cap transport that accrued in 2018.
Renard has a lot to think about, especially when the Palestinians put up stiff resistance at the bleak goalless draw in October 2019. A few surprises would be welcome.
Learn more about the Sport360 application