Saudi Arabia coach Herve Renard targets World Cup qualification after ‘worst year’ of his career

Saudi Arabia coach Herve Renard targets World Cup qualification after ‘worst year’ of his career
Herve Renard took over as coach of Saudi Arabia in 2019. (AFP)
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Updated 31 August 2021

Saudi Arabia coach Herve Renard targets World Cup qualification after ‘worst year’ of his career

Saudi Arabia coach Herve Renard targets World Cup qualification after ‘worst year’ of his career
  • The Frenchman talks to Arab News about Qatar 2022, introducing a new generation of talent and hoping Saudi players try their luck abroad
  • Kingdom takes on Vietnam on Thursday and Oman next week in third round of Asian qualifiers

The road to Qatar 2022 is about to get bumpier for Saudi Arabia, but coach Herve Renard would not have it any other way.

The Kingdom kicks off its campaign for back-to-back FIFA World Cup qualifications for the first time in 16 years when it hosts Vietnam at Mrsool Park in Riyadh on Thursday before traveling to Muscat next week to face Oman.

The two encounters will kickstart a frenetic few months of action, with matches every month, except December, between now and the conclusion of the third round of Asian qualifiers in March next year.

While the packed schedule will place pressure on players and coaching staff, the Green Falcons’ French coach insists he is ready after enduring what he described as the worst 12 months of his career last year.

“The worst year of my career was 2020,” the 52-year-old told Arab News on the first day of their training camp in Riyadh, “because we only met in November for two friendly games. That’s all.

“So it was very difficult only watching the local league, because all the Saudi players are playing in this league. But it was very difficult to stay without games, without international games, so now we are getting better,” he said.

“The international level is it not like at the club (level) where you have a championship with 30 games, 34 games, 38 goals. We only have 10 games to be able to get the qualification, so we don’t want to miss any very important (points),” Renard added.

“All the games are so important. If you are missing one game, you are almost in trouble in the group, so immediately we have to be ready and we know this group will be very tough, so our focus is on Vietnam now and only on Vietnam.”

Renard took over as coach of Saudi Arabia in 2019, following on from Argentine Juan Antonio Pizzi, who oversaw their disappointing campaigns in both Russia for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, where they were embarrassed 5-0 by Russia in the opening game, and the UAE for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, where they failed to progress beyond the round of 16.

Renard, who has previous international experience with Ivory Coast and Morocco, as well as at club level in his native France with Sochaux and Lille, said he immediately saw a need to refresh the Saudi squad by bringing through a new generation of talent.

“I tried to do like I always did with my previous national teams. I tried to get ready immediately and prepare the future,” he said.

“It was very important to regenerate the squad, so today we have some players with big experience but also some very good young players. And I think this is the way to work for the national team.

“But you still need the time because the young players maybe won’t be ready immediately, but you prepare them and hopefully we have to get the qualification and to be ready for 2022.”

Renard arrived in the Kingdom during something of a purple patch for Saudi youth teams, with the under-19 side winning the AFC U-19 Championships in 2018, the Olympic team making the final of the AFC U-23 Championships last year (and performing admirably at Tokyo 2020 last month) and the under-20 side seeing off the likes of Tunisia, Senegal, Egypt and Algeria to win the recent U-20 Arab Cup in Egypt — the first time Saudi Arabia has won that competition.

“The future can be bright in this country,” he said.

“In my opinion, we have to improve to be more professional. So think about the players themselves, to prepare themselves very well, maybe better than some are doing now. But the potential is there.

“I was very impressed by the quality of the players, and I’m sure with or without me this country will get very good results in the future.”

To help achieve that, Renard would love to see young Saudi players show the courage by making the move to Europe to get greater international experience, which in turn will help the national team when it competes at international level.

“I am sure 100 percent (that players are good enough),” he said. “I think it would be a very good thing if they can do it, I would like one day to see Saudi players play for a very big team in Europe.

“(But) do you want to leave your country or do you want to stay in Saudi with your family around? This is a culture, maybe it will be difficult for the first time it happens. You need experience. You need to open your mind; it’s a completely different culture,” Renard added.

“It would be nice for them, but I have to respect their choice if they prefer to stay in Saudi.”

But this week, that will be the farthest thing from his mind. His sole focus will be ensuring his side, led by talisman Salem Al-Dawsari, overcome the talent of Nguyen Quang Hai and one of Asia’s fastest rising national teams in Vietnam.

After the year he has endured, Renard will relish the challenge.

Saudi Arabia out of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup after loss to Morocco

Saudi Arabia out of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup after loss to Morocco
Updated 16 sec ago

Saudi Arabia out of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup after loss to Morocco

Saudi Arabia out of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup after loss to Morocco
  • Young squad could only manage one point from three matches to finish third in Group C and miss out on a place in the quarter-finals
  • Morocco were too good for the rookie Green Falcons, but they only scored through a first-half penalty from Karim El Berkaoui

Saudi Arabia’s 2021 Arab Cup campaign ended at the group stage on Tuesday with a 1-0 loss to Morocco in Qatar. An inexperienced squad made up of Under-23 players exited the tournament after collecting one point from three games in Group C to finish in third place.

In the end, Morocco were too good for the rookie Green Falcons, but they only scored through a first-half penalty from Karim El Berkaoui. Victory means they progress to the quarter-finals with three wins out of three. Jordan, who defeated bottom team Palestine 5-1 in the other fixture, also go into the last eight, where they face Algeria or Egypt.

It was always going to be tough for Saudi Arabia against the Atlas Lions, who had won both previous games 4-0. Assistant coach Laurent Bonadei, in charge of the team with Herve Renard watching from the stands, went with two strikers, Firas Al-Buraikan and Abdullah Al-Hamdan. Neither got into the game in the first half, however, and it was a midfielder who had the best chance as an early shot from Turki Al-Ammar had the goalkeeper scrambling to make a near post save. For the most part however, Morocco were on top.

Yet the teams looked to be heading in at the break 0-0 until goalkeeper Zaid Al-Bawardi brought down Karim El-Berkaoui inside the area. Nobody could disagree with the penalty decision and the Al-Raed forward dusted himself down and fired home a perfect spot-kick into the corner, just past the fingertips of a goalkeeper who almost made up for his mistake.

It was the last action of the half and a frustrating end as the young Green Falcons had worked so hard to keep out the opposition. A goalless scoreline at half-time would have been confidence-boosting and a platform from which to build in the second period.

Morocco continued to push forward after the break but Saudi Arabia had a penalty call of their own just before the hour as Al-Hamdan was bundled over right on the edge of the area. A free-kick was the initial decision and hearts were in mouths in both camps when Andres Cabrera went to check on the pitchside monitor to see if the challenge had been inside the box.

The Uruguayan did change his mind but instead of a penalty, he decided that the Al-Hilal forward had gone to ground too easily and the free-kick was given to the men in red instead.

It summed up the evening for the Saudi team at Al-Thumama Stadium. As the minutes ticked by it became increasingly apparent that they were not going to get the two goals they needed, especially when right-back Ali Majrashi was shown a second yellow card for a clumsy tackle with 11 minutes remaining to reduce Saudi Arabia to 10 men. From that point it was a question as to whether the defeat would be by a single goal or not.

It was testament to the Saudi spirit and work-rate that it remained just 1-0, though Dari Achraf headed against the bar from a corner in injury time. In the end, the result did not matter in terms of progression as Jordan had secured second spot by thrashing Palestine.

It was a flat end to an experimental tournament for Saudi Arabia, during which some players suggested that they have a bright future for the senior national team with others having much work to do if they are going to get a call-up from head coach Renard in January.

That is when the serious action of qualification for the 2022 World Cup resumes. Returning to Qatar next winter is more important than staying for an extra week or so this time.

Uyghurs in Turkey welcome US boycott of Olympics

Uyghurs in Turkey welcome US boycott of Olympics
Updated 14 min 27 sec ago

Uyghurs in Turkey welcome US boycott of Olympics

Uyghurs in Turkey welcome US boycott of Olympics
  • The White House said on Monday US government officials would boycott the Winter Olympics because of China's human rights "atrocities"
  • About 50,000 Uyghurs are believed to live in Turkey, the largest Uyghur diaspora outside of Central Asia

ISTANBUL: China’s Uyghur Muslim ethnic group, which has a wide presence in Turkey, welcomed a US boycott of the Winter Games in Beijing, and called on other countries to do the same.
The White House said on Monday US government officials would boycott the Winter Olympics because of China’s human rights “atrocities,” although US athletes were free to travel there to compete.
Many Uyghurs reside in Turkey, with whom Turks share ethnic, religious and linguistic connections.
About 50,000 Uyghurs are believed to live in Turkey, the largest Uyghur diaspora outside of Central Asia.
One 40-year-old Uyghur woman in Istanbul said she welcomed the US action. “China these days is carrying out a genocide against Uyghur Turks as everyone knows, killing millions of people there,” said Amine Wayit, who spoke in Istanbul’s Zeytinburnu district where she sells Uyghur goods.
“In such a situation it is ridiculous to hold an Olympics there in China and in my view it is like pouring scorn on the whole world’s humanity,” she said. “It would be right for the whole world to stage a boycott, not just America.”
Chinese authorities reacted with anger to Washington’s move. The United States has betrayed Olympic principles and will have to “pay a price” for its diplomatic boycott of the Winter Games in Beijing, China said on Tuesday, as key Western allies hesitated in deciding whether to follow the US lead.
US President Joe Biden’s administration highlighted as the reason for its boycott what Washington calls genocide against minority Muslims in China’s far western region of Xinjiang.
China denies all rights abuses.
“I think this is the start of the reaction. Maybe other countries will afterwards join the boycott decision which America has launched,” said Abdusselam Teklimakan, a Uyghur who is chairman of the East Turkestan New Generation Movement group.
“This will increase the number of countries on the side of the East Turkestanis and weaken the hand of China.”

Sebastien Loeb hopes UAE desert testing will boost bid for 2022 Dakar Rally glory

Sebastien Loeb hopes UAE desert testing will boost bid for 2022 Dakar Rally glory
Updated 07 December 2021

Sebastien Loeb hopes UAE desert testing will boost bid for 2022 Dakar Rally glory

Sebastien Loeb hopes UAE desert testing will boost bid for 2022 Dakar Rally glory
  • BRX team put the car which runs on new sustainable fuel through its paces in Umm Al-Quwain

DUBAI: Nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb believes that thorough testing in the UAE this week at the wheel of a car powered by a new sustainable fuel can boost his challenge for a first Dakar Rally victory in Saudi Arabia next month.

The world’s most successful rally driver and his Bahrain Raid Xtreme team-mates Nani Roma and Orlando Terranova have been taking part in a second wave of tests in the Emirates at the wheel the Hunter T1+.

Roma, twice a Dakar winner and the 2013 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge champion, put the T1+ through its paces in the Umm Al-Quwain desert last week before Loeb and Argentinian driver Terranova took over yesterday.

“This is extremely valuable testing as we have all the conditions here that we’re going to face in the Dakar,” said Loeb, accompanied by co-driver Fabian Lurquin.

“Added to that, it’s a perfect opportunity for us to work together to concentrate our efforts on navigation which is where the Dakar will be won or lost.”

Terranova, partnered by Dani Oliveras, commented: “It’s my first time in the new car and it is great to experience it in the same conditions as we will find on the Dakar in four weeks’ time. Dani and I have been working on our navigation as it will be crucial in Saudi Arabia not to make any mistakes.”

Roma and his co-driver, Alex Haro, had previously spent five days in Umm Al-Quwain testing the T1+, which uses fuel that reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent compared to petrol.

The fuel is made from second generation biofuel manufactured from agricultural waste and efuels created from carbon capture, and will be used in the three BRX cars at the 2022 Dakar, which starts on Jan. 1 in Saudi Arabia.

BRX believes the most demanding motor race in the world can demonstrate that such fuels can be used as an alternative to petrol and diesel in road transport, and immediately make a contribution to fighting climate change.

Over two weeks at the Dakar Rally, the cars will race 8,500 km across the deserts of the Kingdom, starting in Hail and finishing in Jeddah, with a mid-event rest day in Riyadh. 

T1+ cars run on larger tyres, with increased suspension travel and a wider track. The car now benefits from 37 inch tyres on 17 inch rims, with suspension travel increased from 280 mm to 350 mm and the body width increased from 2 meters to 2.3 meters to accommodate this. 

These changes have necessitated a radical redesign of the Hunter, and Prodrive has used this as an opportunity to make further improvements, including a larger windscreen for improved visibility and a refinement of a number of systems throughout the car.

World Champion Sunny Edwards keen to maintain dominance in Dubai

World Champion Sunny Edwards keen to maintain dominance in Dubai
Updated 07 December 2021

World Champion Sunny Edwards keen to maintain dominance in Dubai

World Champion Sunny Edwards keen to maintain dominance in Dubai
  • Reigning IBF flyweight champ will take on Filipino Jayson Mama at the Coca-Cola Arena

UK boxer Sunny Edwards, the IBF flyweight world champion, says headlining Probellum: Revolution in Dubai this coming Saturday will be a “life-changing” moment.

Probellum, the new global boxing promotion company spearheaded by Richard Schaefer, launched in September and holds its first event at Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena, with Edwards defending his title against Filipino challenger Jayson Mama.

Having fought outside the UK on a few occasions earlier in his career, Edwards is relishing the prospect of competing in the UAE.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time,” he said. “My management will tell you that I’ve always asked to get some international experience. I’m a world champion and I want to see the world. I’m not one of those world champions who just wants to defend the title against three fighters in Britain, that’s not what I’m all about. I want to go to Dubai, I want to go to Mexico, I want to go to Japan. I’ll go anywhere. It’s great to have this opportunity in Dubai.

“When I saw the venue, my head almost fell off. I couldn’t believe it,” Edwards added. “I made my debut in an industrial unit in Estepona, in Spain, had a couple of undercard slots where I got a taste of what the big life is like, gradually crept up and had a few arena shows, but this is completely different. Even the architecture looks like the Allianz Arena (in Munich).”

Having originally been due to face Mama in September, in the UK, Edwards was forced to pull out after sustaining an ankle injury during his training camp but, despite the inevitable frustration caused by the delay, he insists he is in great shape going into Saturday’s fight.

“There was a lot of talk about what happened but genuinely, I rolled my ankle and that put me out,” he explains. “I was devastated. All I like to do is fight, I can’t stress that enough. I’ve been involved in boxing for 16, 17 years and I don’t enjoy anything else. I can’t explain how much boxing, fighting and competing makes me feel alive, nothing else comes remotely close. I’m just buzzing for the fight to be here now.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been as fit, healthy or in as good a shape as I am right now. It’s the first fight in a while where I’m not really nursing an injury going into it, said Edwards. “When you’ve boxed as much as I have, and been in some of the fights I have, it’s going to take some lumps and bumps out of you, but this time it’s all gone well. I’m always confident but I’m in such a good place and even weight-wise, I’ve never done it this well before.”

Edwards said he is looking forward to establishing his name in this part of the world and is aware of his rival’s threat.

“Mama’s a good fighter. He’s done everything that has been asked of him so far,” he said. “I know he’s going to come into the ring with a lot of pent-up feelings and emotions. He’s going to come and try to take my head off because he’s been waiting patiently all year. He was my mandatory challenger and here we are now. I had my mind on Mama, I knew the conditions of me fighting for the world title were that, if I got through it, I’d be facing Mama next and I’m looking forward to it.

“He brings fire, he brings excitement and he wants to take my head off, but I’m fine with all of that. He could have dynamite in both hands, but I have the wind in my feet,” Edwards added.

Mama is one of three Filipino fighters on the card for Saturday’s event, with John Riel Casimero defending his WBO bantamweight title against Paul Butler, and Donnie Nietes facing Norbelto Jiminez.

“I’m sure they will have a lot of fans because it’s a big night for Filipino boxing,” says Edwards.

“Casimero is one of their brightest stars currently. Donnie Nietes has been one of their biggest stars and Mama, if he dethrones me, could be the next big thing coming out of there so it’s going to be pretty hostile but I thrive off that,” he said.

“If I was walking down the street and somebody decided to pick a fight with me, I’d have to kick into survival mode, and when I get into that mindset, it’s not about fighting for my family, or fighting to make my kids proud, or fighting to defend a title, it’s about me beating my opponent up instead of him beating me up. I can’t stress how simple it is in my mind. I think the simplicity of it provides a mental and emotional detachment of pressure.”

Edwards will be welcomed into the ring on Saturday by Michael Buffer, the most famous MC in the sport, and a man who has been involved in some of the biggest fights in history.

“Let’s face it, that’s like something out of a movie,” he admits. “I’m trying to be the most influential flyweight to walk the planet. If I’m getting announced by Michael Buffer, that says a lot about where I’m going. To headline such a great show is the stuff of dreams. Boxing is my place, my home, where I feel most comfortable. To be headlining the Coca-Cola Arena is amazing.

“Big-time boxing is coming to Dubai and it will be here to stay,” said Edwards. “This is going to be the start of something big and I’m buzzing to be a part of it. I can guarantee within the next two or three years, if not sooner, the biggest, best and most exciting fights in the world are all going to be happening in the UAE. 

“I’m just over the moon that a scruffy little kid from Croydon will be part of the first show. It’s life changing and I want to say a big thanks to Probellum for putting me on the card.”

F1 heads to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit

F1 heads to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit
Updated 07 December 2021

F1 heads to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit

F1 heads to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit
  • Drivers will take to shortened 5.28km track after it was altered for first time since 2009

ABU DHABI: As the chequered flag waved Lewis Hamilton to victory in Jeddah, putting him on level pegging with Max Verstappen in their battle for the 2021 Formula One Championship, the attention of the world’s motorsport fans and media turned to Yas Marina Circuit for what promises to be a nail-biting climax to the season in Abu Dhabi.

For the first time in 13 years, drivers and teams will be experiencing a revamped Yas Marina Circuit, with the new track layout shortened by 273 meters to 5.28km.

Following an extensive reconfiguration program during the summer across three key corners in North Hairpin, Marsa Corner and around the W Hotel section, the shorter, faster lap will allow cars to run closer together and, by default, will give the drivers more opportunity to overtake in certain areas.

Pre-race simulations by a number of teams have shown that lap times may drop by as much as 13 seconds in total, a significant decrease that will be sure to throw up a few surprises as teams adjust to new lap times of around 1 minute and 23 seconds.

Teams will be looking to get to grips with the track during the three practice sessions, ahead of Saturday’s qualifying, as they approach at more than 300 km per hour for the first time the revised, sweeping corner at North Hairpin, and race wheel-to-wheel through the elevated Marsa Corner.

The new hotel section, with reduced “Constantine effect” that previously saw drivers bunch up, has new corners that should reduce tyre slide to keep drivers on the track, helping to maintain a more tightly packed field.

While overtaking is unlikely through this section, by staying closer to one another the revised layout tees up overtaking opportunities elsewhere around the lap.

As Sunday approaches, what is certain is that Yas Marina Circuit’s revised layout will provide even more action than ever, in what will be the most exciting finale in recent years.