Saudi Arabia shift their focus back to football after euphoria of Argentina win

Herve Renard's heroes face Poland in World Cup on Saturday but will have to manage without injured full-back Yasser Al Shahrani

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The video after the match was almost as engrossing as the match itself.

Offering a behind-the-scenes account of one of the greatest upset victories in Fifa World Cup history, within no time it had clocked up three million views on Twitter alone.

Such, suppose, was the occasion it documented. Such was the shock felt around the football world.

The video, released overnight on Thursday, chronicled Saudi Arabia’s 2-1, come-from-behind win on Tuesday against Argentina, the South American champions and among the favourites in Qatar for the global crown. In popcorn detail.

Herve Renard - has there ever been a manager more fitting to play the lead? - took centre stage, giving a stirring speech to his players before the Group C opener at Lusail Stadium. And, then again, at half-time as Saudi trailed to Lionel Messi’s 10th-minute penalty.

In the former, Renard reminded the players that “35 million people pray for you”, that some of those compatriots could even stop them in the street 20 years from then to discuss Argentina, Lusail Stadium, November 22, 2022. The Frenchman even thanked the team for providing his mother a first opportunity to watch in person football’s showpiece tournament.

Between the vastly varying 45-minute - and then some - periods of play, Renard demanded his downcast players lift their heads, as presumably all managers at some point have done.

Dismayed by the lack of first-half pressing of their Argentine rivals, he even suggested a player might as well have busied his time with taking a selfie with Messi. Maybe all managers sometimes think that, at least.

But then came the fight-back, Renard’s words probably still ringing in ears. Salman Al Faraj, the patched-up captain who did not last barely 45 minutes, sat anxiously on a table close to the dressing room, bandaged seemingly everywhere. He erupted when Salem Al Dawsari struck the goal of the tournament, then exhaled deep when the whistle went and the result was secure.

Afterwards, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal, the Saudi Minister of Sports, stood alongside Yasser Al Misehal, the president of the Saudi Football Federation, and in front of the players and offered congratulations. Words of advice, too.

In the post-match press conference, while referencing that sometimes the stars really do align, Renard preached caution also.

“Just have a good celebration for 20 minutes and that's all,” he said. “There are still two more games.”

And that is it. As incredible as the Argentina triumph was, Saudi face Poland on Saturday and still have Mexico to come. Group C remains wide open.

Robert Lewandowski, the genuinely world-class striker, will surely yearn to put right Tuesday’s penalty miss against the Mexicans that would have gave them a 1-0 victory. Mexico, meanwhile, are perennial qualifiers for the World Cup knockouts.

Last time out, in 2018, Saudi exited at the group stage, although they opened with a crushing 5-0 loss to hosts Russia. Contesting their sixth World Cup, the Gulf side have only once before played more than three matches at the tournament, courtesy of that starry team from 1994.

On Saturday, another mighty effort is required. It is made more taxing by the serious injury to talented full-back Yasser Al Shahrani – he is back in Riyadh having undergone surgery to face and pancreas – and Al Faraj’s likely omission.

But in their absence late on against Argentina, others stood tall; chief among them, Hassan Tambakti, Mohammed Kanno, Al Dawsari. They may well need to do so again.

Just as Renard stated regarding in-game photos with Messi, Saudi cannot bask in the moment. They must not get carried away. Surely, their manager will not allow it.

For football's premier event does either. As Renard implored at half-time on Tuesday, deep inside the Lusail, ‘Come on, guys, come on. This is the World Cup. Give everything.’

That, despite the warranted jubilation of Argentina, applies still.

Updated: November 26, 2022, 5:52 AM