Hervé Renard after the sensation against Argentina: “An emotion comparable to a victory in the CAN final”

Have you become aware of the performance accomplished by your selection, against one of the favorites of this World Cup?

Hervé Renard: We have achieved something extraordinary. Not many people expected that, and it managed to get a lot of media coverage. Many people are interested in the Saudi selection. In the country, there were scenes of jubilation in all the cities, Wednesday was declared a public holiday. In the Lusail stadium, where there was a very nice atmosphere, there were thousands of Saudi supporters, it was really very strong, a superb moment. Of course we realize our performance. We were able to enjoy it a bit in the locker room, then we took the bus back to our hotel, an hour away. In the evening, there was training with the substitutes. And since then, we have been totally focused on the match we are going to play on Saturday against Poland.

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Back to Tuesday’s meeting. Argentina score quickly thanks to a penalty from Messi, they dominate, are denied a few goals, and we could have imagined the worst for your team…

HR: The fact that the Argentines scored after ten minutes may have worked in our favour. They thought it would be quite easy against a team presented as the weakest in the group. And somewhere, it’s not abnormal. We, when we face teams that are supposed to be less strong, there can be an excess of confidence. So, yes, there were things that were interesting in the first half: we played offside well, the players were disciplined, willing, but overall I was not satisfied, especially with the pressing of my attackers on the Argentine defence.

Hervé Renard Argentina-Saudi Arabia pendant

Credit: Getty Images

Knowing you, can we assume that you shook them up a bit at half-time?

RH: Exactly. I told all my players that we had to give even more. I asked some if they had come to take photos of Lionel Messi and watch the Argentines, or to play in a World Cup and make their country proud. I know my players well, we have been working together for three years. I know that they sometimes need to be titillated, even stung, that they have to put them under pressure. It’s sometimes tiring, I admit, but sometimes it works very well. I knew that we wouldn’t demand many chances, and that we would have to be very effective.

Your team to take advantage of the disintegration of the Albiceleste game. We have seen South Americans get bogged down in excessive individualism. Did you feel that there was something to do?

HR: From the moment we were concentrated, well organized, yes, we took advantage of two opportunities to score two goals in five minutes (48th, 53rd). This efficiency came at the right time. Al-Dawsari scores this second but magnificent, but in the past he had already scored superb goals. He is an atypical player, capable of doing very good things, very strong technically. After taking the advantage, we had to try to keep this advantage. The players were able to keep the same concentration, they fought on all the balls, and athletically, they kept the same intensity.

Salem Al-Dawsari’s strike that ended its run in the top corner against Argentina

Credit: Getty Images

This result opens the doors to a possible qualification, a performance accomplished in 1994. But doesn’t the most difficult start with this match against Poland, which drew against Mexico (0-0) after Robert Lewandowski misses a penalty?

HR: We know what to expect with Poland, a solid, well-organized team with an exceptional goalscorer who only needs half a chance to score. We will try to confirm this successful performance against Argentina, to continue to believe in our chances of qualification. We hope to do at least as well as the team of 1994. Of course, if Saudi Arabia is eliminated in the first round, everyone will find that normal. But with the staff, with the players, we want this World Cup not to end with this magnificent victory against one of the favorites, against the team of the best player in the world. We had a wonderful day, full of emotions, we want this World Cup to be beautiful. We have no particular pressure. Prince Mohamed ben Salmane, before the competition, simply congratulated us on our qualification, that the people were proud and wished us the best.

Your team spent several weeks in stages, facing opponents as varied as North Macedonia (1-0), Iceland (1-0), Albania (1-1), Honduras (0-0 )…

HR: The championship was interrupted so that we could work, play friendly matches, for more than a month. The goal was not to get into World Cup configuration, but to work tactically, physically, to prepare well. It was good to win a few games, but what was waiting was to reach the final phase in the best conditions. On a beaten Argentina, on a recall two games to play against Poland and Mexico, two very good teams. But I’m happy to see that our performance and that of Japan against Germany (2-1) proves the quality of Asian football, while there are people who say that qualifying when you move to the Asian zone is easy . Saudi Arabia is a real football country, with a quality championship, very good players.

With Saudi Arabia, Hervé Renard is contesting a new World Cup.

Credit: Getty Images

Is a win over Argentina emotionally comparable to winning the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations, a competition you won with Zambia in 2012 and Ivory Coast in 2015?

RH: Frankly, yes. Emotions are worth it. The difference is that the World Cup is much more publicized than a CAN. I was able to measure the echo of our success against the Argentinians. Yes, these are immense and comparable joys!

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