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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - The four Arab teams preparing for the 2022 FIFA World Cup had mixed results in the first round of games in this crucial international break. There were plenty of talking points around the games, and below are just five things to look forward to as the quartet wrap up the last official international get-together before the action starts in Qatar on Nov. 20.
1. Saudi Arabia need to score against the US
There were some positives for Saudi Arabia to take from Friday’s 0-0 draw with Ecuador, not least that they avoided a third straight defeat since the end of qualification for the World Cup.
But the Green Falcons have failed to score in 295 minutes of football, and to be honest, they have not looked like scoring very often. In the three friendlies against Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador, chances have been few and far between.
In the most recent, there were a couple of opportunities, and Firas Al-Buraikan and Nawaf Al-Abed should have done better with their efforts, but coach Herve Renard needs to find a way to get Salem Al-Dawsari into the game and into areas where he can use his creative talents.
Salman Al-Faraj, with his ability to retain possession and bring composure to the middle of the park, was missed in that regard, and it is vital that the skipper gets fit and stays fit.
There are not many striking options available for Renard so there needs to be goals from all areas of the pitch. Against strong teams like Argentina, Poland and Mexico at the World Cup, Saudi Arabia are going to have to take their limited number of chances and be clinical on the counter and at set pieces. Another failure to score on Tuesday will set the alarm bells ringing.
2. Tunisia get their test against Brazil
The North Africans extended their unbeaten run to seven games on Thursday with a 1-0 win over Comoros. It was not the most fluid of performances from the Carthage Eagles but the real test comes on Tuesday with a game against Brazil in Paris. There is going to be a lot of support for Tunisia at the Parc des Princes and they want to see if this team are the real deal. The wins over 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 title-holders France, Denmark and Australia, and will get a great idea of what level they are at the moment against a Brazil team that are in great form. The Selecao have scored 21 goals in the last six games with just one goal conceded, and the standard of opposition has been decent, too.
It is very impressive and means that head coach Jalel Kadri is going to see how well his team can defend against world-class players.
3. Qatar need to rediscover their mojo
The World Cup host started last week with a comprehensive 3-0 loss to Croatia’s U-23 team. Bad results can happen but the 2-0 loss to Canada on Friday was more worrying. The opening period was truly poor, with the two goals from the North Americans both coming in the first 15 minutes.
Qatar’s performance improved after that but the damage had been done. There was a distinct lack of energy and concentration among the players.
Coach Felix Sanchez has really taken the team places over the past few years and it would be disappointing if the 2019 Asian champions were to lose their edge just as the tournament is within touching distance. The wake-up call from the Canadians has to be heard and the game against Chile on Tuesday has become even more important. Whether there is a win or not, there has to be a return to the mentality monsters that won the 2019 continental championships.
4. Moroccan smiles as Ziyech returns
Morocco gave 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 in the summer was a popular choice to replace Vahid Halilhodzic.
Most of the headlines focused on the return of Hakim Ziyech for the first time since June 2021, with the breakdown of the Chelsea star’s relationship with Halilhodzic being seen as a major reason why the French Bosnian coach was dismissed.
Now Ziyech is back ahead of the World Cup and it is a major boost with tough group games against Belgium, Canada and Croatia coming up.
His performance was solid rather than spectacular and the same can be said of the game in general but it sets up the game against Paraguay nicely. Another confidence-boosting performance against South American opposition would be welcome and reaffirm the widespread belief that the coaching change, while late, was necessary.
5. US toughest test so far for Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia have faced Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador since qualifying and failed to win any of the three matches.
Things will not get easier against a US team ranked 14 in the world, and which is full of experienced internationals playing in some of the world’s best leagues.
Christian Pulisic is with Chelsea, fullback Sergino Dest is with AC Milan and Weston McKennie plays for Juventus. There are others in the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga, France’s Ligue 1 as well as MLS.
After losing 2-0 to Japan on Friday, coach Gregg Berhalter will be keen to return to winning ways.
Just as in the 0-0 draw with Ecuador, there is going to be plenty of defending for Saudi Arabia to do but there is no reason to sit back too much. There is also no reason why the Asian team cannot go toe to toe with the team that reached the knockout stage at three of their last four World Cups before missing out last time around. If the midfield can be more involved in the game and can keep and use possession better, those elusive goals may not be far away.
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