Proud Saudi Arabia 'aim for victory' at Qatar World Cup

Assistant coach Laurent Bonadei says the tournament is about more than just taking part as his team prepare to face Argentina

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Saudi Arabia are hoping to cause a historic upset in Doha as they begin their World Cup campaign on Tuesday, their assistant coach said.

Laurent Bonadei said the team “prepared well” for the challenge of the competition during a training camp in Abu Dhabi, in which they played five friendlies before returning to Riyadh.

“We will continue and are motivated to play our best, without a doubt. We are feeling very good before the first game. The players are ready, very fit and have high ambitions in this World Cup,” Bonadei told The National.

It is Saudi Arabia's sixth World Cup. They are coming off the back of a lacklustre Arab Cup 2021, from which they failed to make it past the group stages.

But the 2022 Doha tournament holds new promise for the team, managed by Bonadei's fellow Frenchman and former defender, Herve Renard.

“We are very proud to reach this goal because when we signed in 2019, our priority was to qualify the team for the World Cup and since it is happening in the Middle East, it was really important for Saudi Arabia to be a part of it,” Bonadei said.

He said the Saudi national team aims to make a difference in the World Cup in a similar style to South Korea, who unexpectedly managed to reach the semi-finals in 2002.

“It is not just about participating,” he said. “We play Argentina, Mexico and others and our goal is to get the victory. If I am there during the competition I hope to be there for as long as possible with my team.”

Saudi Arabia will play their first game against Argentina on Tuesday and go on to play Poland and Mexico.

Bonadei said the players were “super” focused and worked “really hard” preparing for the World Cup. The team was made to play “tough” games in the run to the competition.

“Saudi Arabia played against Ecuador and it was a draw, which is a really good team,” he said after Ecuador beat Qatar 2-0 on Sunday.

“We are proud to defend our flag for our fans and people in Saudi Arabia.”

Last month, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Saudi team players preparing to take part in the World Cup.

Prince Mohammed sat down and chatted with the footballers, asking them not to feel stressed and to simply “enjoy” the tournament.

He attended the World Cup's opening ceremony on Sunday on the invitation of Sheikh Tamim, Emir of Qatar.

“The opponents are really good teams with players like Messi in Argentina. But we continue to play without doubting ourselves and are motivated to win and do our best,” said Bonadei.

Yu Dabao of China competes for the ball with Saud Abdullah Abdulhamid of Saudi Arabia during their Fifa World Cup Asian Qualifying match at the Sharjah Football Stadium in March. Getty

He said he has told the players that “everything is possible in football” and referenced Croatia's final in 2018, when they lost to France.

“Croatia in 2018 reached the final but sometimes it goes to extra time or penalty kicks and anything is possible. We have to believe in our chance, work really hard and maintain a team spirit,” Bonadei said.

“I really enjoy being with them, they're fun, professional and are ambitious to win this World Cup. A good performance will help give people a strong mentality of winners and inspire hope for the future.”

After Saudi Arabia's under-23 football team won the West Asian Federation (WAFF) Cup Under-23 Championship this year, Bonadei said the future is bright for the footballing nation.

“In the next five years, Saudi football will be much stronger. It is a good thing for Asia to have a strong team like Saudi Arabia. I hope the players perform well in this World Cup so the youth to be more confident in the future,” he said.

Bonadei previously coached the team during the 2021 Fifa Arab Cup.

He also coached Paris Saint-Germain's under-19s, where he worked with future stars including first-team defender Presnel Kimpembe and midfielder Adrien Rabiot, who is now with Juventus.

He also coached Nice's second team, where he worked with Dortmund's French star striker Anthony Modeste.

Renard has “the experience, a professional attitude and is not stressed but focused on the goal to win”, Bonadei said.

Updated: November 22, 2022, 7:10 AM