Fifa World Cup: Saudi coach Herve Renard's tactical masterstroke brought Argentina's downfall

The 54-year-old Frenchman found a system that could stifle the South Americans in the midfield


Rituraj Borkakoty

Published: Tue 22 Nov 2022, 9:01 PM

Last updated: Tue 22 Nov 2022, 9:33 PM

The beauty of sports is that sometimes things happen and they are hard to explain. Who could have imagined that a heavyweight, playing the opening game at Qatar 2022, on the back of a 36-match unbeaten run, would capitulate to a team that had not won a World Cup match in 28 years?

But then Saudi Arabia have been trained by a man who knows a thing or two about building a good team.

Herve Renard is not a big name in football. But he is a man who knows how to inspire unfancied teams to record big wins.

The 54-year-old Frenchman’s resume features two Africa Cup of Nations triumphs, the first one in 2012 was especially impressive as it came with unfancied Zambia.

Renard’s tactical masterstroke on Tuesday not only inflicted a painful defeat to Argentina, but it has also given Saudi Arabia a shot at qualifying for the round of 16 for the first time since 1994.

In what was the biggest surprise of the tournament so far, Renard found a system that could stifle Argentina in the midfield.

Despite Lionel Messi’s early goal from a penalty, Argentina never looked confident on the ball as the Saudi controlled the midfield, won 50-50 balls and set up the off-side trap beautifully.

Argentina found the back of the net two more times after Messi’s goal, but none of them counted as the Saudi defence expertly played the lines, catching the South Americans off guard.

While Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari will earn the plaudits for their brilliant second-half goals, it’s the compactness of their game, especially in the middle of the park, that knocked the stuffing out of Argentina.

And on the few occasions when Saudi Arabia did lose their shape, their goalkeeper, Mohammed Al-Owais, came up with some astonishing saves, deep into the second half to frustrate Argentina.

Al-Shehri, Al-Dawsari and Al-Owais have now written their names in the history of Saudi and Arab football.

But Renard, who was deeply animated on the touchline as his wards battled to protect their lead in the dying minutes, was remarkably calm in the post-match press conference.

"All the stars in the sky were aligned for us, but don't forget Argentina are still a fantastic team," he said.

"This is football, sometimes totally crazy things can happen.”

Argentina, on the other hand, need to pick up the pieces ahead of their make-or-break game against Mexico, a team they had never lost to in a World Cup game.

But then we saw what happened on Tuesday at Lusail Stadium!


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