Saudi Arabia manager Herve Renard has urged his players to “not take our foot off the gas” as they attempt to secure a place at the 2022 World Cup – and then target finishing top of Group B.
The kingdom side sit top of the standings going into the double-header finale, where they take on China in Sharjah on Thursday before rounding off the final round against Australia in Jeddah five days later.
With Saudi one point clear of second-placed Japan and four ahead of Australia in third, victory at Sharjah Stadium would be enough to secure their place at Qatar 2022. A draw on Thursday might even be enough, should Japan defeat Australia in Sydney earlier in the day.
If a sixth World Cup appearance is secured, it will mark the first time Saudi have qualified for consecutive global finals since 2006. Renard and his squad have been training in Abu Dhabi since last week.
“We are in an excellent position in the group,” the Frenchman told the official Asian Football Confederation website. “The players have done an incredible job, and everything is now in our own hands. Yes, the most important thing is to get one of the two direct tickets to the World Cup, but I want us to finish first because we have been topping the group for a long time.
“In international football, things are always difficult but when you are representing your nation, there is no place for relaxing. We cannot take our foot off the gas at this important stage.”
Appointed as Saudi manager in July 2019, Renard has previous experience of guiding a team to the World Cup having led the Ivory Coast to Russia four years ago. Saudi, though, represents his first management role in the Gulf.
“There are many foreign players in each club in the league, which makes my job a bit more difficult,” Renard, 53, said. “I know the qualities and level of all players I selected. I have also been in constant communication with their coaches at club level. Everything is going very well so far with this group of players.
“We prepare for this game like we do for every game. I have full confidence in my players. I am sure the players will deliver and bring home the World Cup ticket.
“It’s been almost four years in Saudi Arabia for me. I would like to congratulate everyone for the effort and work they have done to this point. But it is very important that nobody should forget that we have not qualified yet. There is a difficult match ahead and we are ready to take on the challenge.”