The four Arab teams preparing for the 2022 FIFA World Cup have had mixed results in the first round of matches in this crucial international break. There were plenty of talking points surrounding the games, and below are just five things to look forward to as the foursome conclude the last official international meeting before action begins in Qatar on November 20.
1. Saudi Arabia must score against USA
Saudi Arabia have some positives to take from Friday’s 0-0 draw with Ecuador, including the fact that they avoided a third straight loss since completing World Cup qualifying.
But the Green Falcons failed to score in 295 minutes of football, and to be honest, they didn’t seem to score very often. In the three friendlies against Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador, chances were few.
In the most recent, there were some opportunities, and Firas Al-Buraikan and Nawaf Al-Abed should have done better with their efforts, but coach Hervé Renard has to find a way to get Salem Al-Dawsari into the game and in areas where he can use his creative talents.
Salman Al-Faraj, with his ability to hold onto the ball and provide composure in the middle of the park, has been missed in this regard, and it is vital that the skipper is fit and healthy.
There aren’t many striking options available to Renard, so there must be goals in all areas of the pitch. Against strong teams like Argentina, Poland and Mexico at the World Cup, Saudi Arabia will have to take their limited number of chances and be clinical on the block and on set pieces. Another failure to score on Tuesday will set off alarm bells.
2. Tunisia get their test against Brazil
The North Africans extended their unbeaten streak to seven games on Thursday with a 1-0 win over Comoros. It wasn’t the smoothest performance for the Carthage Eagles but the real test comes on Tuesday with a game against Brazil in Paris. There will be plenty of support for Tunisia at the Parc des Princes and they want to see if this team is the real deal. Victories against Chile and especially Japan in Japan in June were hugely impressive, but now come the five-time world champions.
Tunisia have been placed in a tough group with defending champions France, Denmark and Australia, and will have a good idea of their current level against an in-form Brazilian side. The Selecao have scored 21 goals in the last six games with just one conceded, and the level of opposition has been decent as well.
It’s very impressive and it means head coach Jalel Kadri will see how well his team can defend against world-class players.
3. Qatar must rediscover its mojo
The World Cup host started last week with a comprehensive 3-0 loss to the Croatian Under-23 side. Bad results can happen, but Friday’s 2-0 loss to Canada was more worrying. The opening period was really poor, with the North Americans’ two goals both coming in the opening 15 minutes.
Qatar’s performance improved thereafter, but the damage was done. There was a distinct lack of energy and focus among the players.
Coach Felix Sanchez has really taken the squad places over the past few years and it would be disappointing if the 2019 Asian champions lost their advantage just as the tournament was at hand. The Canadians’ wake-up call needs to be heard and Tuesday’s game against Chile has become even more important. Whether there is victory or not, there must be a return to the mentality monsters who won the 2019 continental championships.
4. The Moroccan smiles at Ziyech’s return
Morocco handed new coach Walid Regragui a 2-0 win over Chile in his first game in charge after being appointed in August. The man who led Wydad to the African Champions League title earlier this summer was a popular choice to replace Vahid Halilhodzic.
Most headlines have focused on Hakim Ziyech’s return for the first time since June 2021, with the Chelsea star’s breakdown in relationship with Halilhodzic seen as a major reason the Bosnian French coach was sacked .
Now Ziyech is back ahead of the World Cup and it’s a major boost with tough group games against Belgium, Canada and Croatia to come.
His performance was solid rather than spectacular and the same can be said for the game in general, but he is preparing well for the game against Paraguay. Another confidence-boosting performance against South American opposition would be welcome and reaffirm the widely held belief that the coaching change, albeit late, was necessary.
5. Toughest US test yet for Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia have faced Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador since qualifying and have not won any of the three matches.
Things won’t be any easier against an American team ranked 14th in the world and full of experienced internationals playing in some of the best leagues in the world.
Christian Pulisic is with Chelsea, full-back Sergino Dest is with AC Milan and Weston McKennie plays for Juventus. There are others in the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, German Bundesliga, French Ligue 1 as well as MLS.
After losing 2-0 to Japan on Friday, coach Gregg Berhalter will be keen to get back to winning ways.
Just like in the 0-0 draw with Ecuador, Saudi Arabia will have a lot to do in defence, but there’s no reason to sit back too much. There’s also no reason why the Asian side can’t face the side that reached the knockout stage in three of their last four World Cups before missing out last time out. If the midfielder can get more involved in the game and can keep and use possession better, those elusive goals might not be far away.