Saudi Arabia returned to the international stage with an excellent 3-0 friendly win over Jamaica at King Abdullah Sports City stadium. Here are five things we learned from the match:
Squad get-togethers essential before World Cup qualifiers
The value of training together was shown by both teams, though in very different ways. Herve Renard’s team had not played this year due to the onset of the pandemic. This match and another against Jamaica this week are the last opportunities for the coach to work with his players before the World Cup qualifiers in March against Yemen and Singapore.
However, the Saudi squad had the luxury of a prolonged training camp, ensuring the newcomers had the chance to get used to the coach’s system.
“After being away for over 11 months, to have this result and performance is positive,” Hussein Al-Sadiq, general manager of the Saudi team, said.
Jamaica’s squad, on the other hand, had not met up since March and barely had time to prepare before landing in the Kingdom — and it showed.
Herve Renard’s system shows early promise
Noticeable throughout the match were Saudi’s energetic, high pressing tactics, something Renard is trying to instil into his team.
Salem Al-Dawsari and Mohammed Al-Kanoo successfully closed down their opponents, which ensured Saudi domination in midfield.
All three goals came about from pressure in the opposition’s defensive third. The first came from a penalty for handball — converted by Salem Al-Dawsari — after Saudi’s closing down had resulted in a free-kick. The second from Ayman Yahya punishing lax defending by Jamaica to find Saleh Al-Shehri, who finished confidently. Then a retreating Jamaica defence was all at sea as Al-Dawsari found Abdullah Al-Hamdan who produced a clever reverse pass that left Feras Al-Brikan, with an open goal.
The high pressing game is hard to maintain across 90 minutes, but this was a positive start.
Saudi defensive mistakes must be eradicated
The Saudi team was guilty of glaring errors in defence, holding on to the ball for too long, executing reckless tackles or allowing the high line to be exploited.
After falling behind Jamaica improved noticeably, with Norman Campbell in particular giving the Saudi defence trouble down the left wing, which led to midfielder Abdulellah Al-Malki getting booked for a rash challenge.
Jamaica’s best chance of the first half came after Sultan Al-Ghanam’s miscued clearance on 25 minutes but goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Yami produced a fine save.
Missing first team players and a lack of preparation time no doubt played a part in some of the errors and the early lack of understanding. However, Renard will be pleased to have kept a clean sheet.
Young Saudi players need more playing time
The lack of first team appearances at club level remains a concern for many of the younger Saudi players, who can find themselves behind high profile foreign superstars at their clubs.
Hussein Al-Sadiq believes this can be used to improve the standard of the home players.
“In the past, when there were more Saudi players in the league, managers had longer get-togethers with them,” he said. “These days you get a lot less time, and it’s confined to the FIFA schedules. Most clubs don’t want to let go of their players beyond those timings. We cannot ignore that but we should acknowledge that the presence of foreigners players has improved standards.”
Risk of injuries is rising after the coronavirus disruption
The early part of this match was scrappy with mistimed tackles leading to too many stoppages, injuries and yellow cards. The lack of preparation resulting from the pandemic hasn’t helped, and the rescheduling of many competitions and matches into a shorter period of time is putting greater physical demands on the players.
By the end of the match, several players were feeling the effects of playing in a new high-energy system against physically strong opponents, with Al-Hamdan, Al-Dawsari and Ayman Yahya all on the injured list by the final whistle.