JEDDAH: Herve Renard, coach of the Saudi national soccer team, welcomes the return of fans for his side’s World Cup qualifier against Japan at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium on Thursday night, and the boost he believes the players will get from the capacity crowd.
He added that he is not too concerned about the members of his squad who are unavailable for the game as a result of injury.
“It is a very important game for us and our motivation is higher with the attendance of our 60,000 fans,” the Frenchman said on Wednesday night. “I am not worried about tomorrow’s match despite losing two of our best players but we have to manage it with our good squad and our spirit.
“We are proud of our participation and presence at this stage, where we are currently in second place in our group, and have not lost in seven games.”
Saudi Arabia trail Australia only on goal difference at the top of Group B in the third round of the Asian qualifiers, after winning their opening matches against Vietnam (3-1) and Oman (1-0).
Renard said he is keen to maintain this momentum with a victory against opponents who will be eager to regain some ground after a shock defeat by Oman in Tokyo last month.
“We are well-prepared for the match against Japan,” he said. “I hope the players can play this match like a final and deliver their best performance. There is no doubt that Japan is the best team in Asia, and I hope the whole team will have the courage to challenge this strong opponent.”
He also noted that previous Saudi successes against Japan in Jeddah will have no bearing on the outcome.
“No, it is totally different and we have to take it seriously in a different way,” he said. “My main goal is not winning a match but to reach the 2022 World Cup.”
Japan’s coach, Hajime Moriyasu, said his players are ready for the game and he expects it to be a tough contest as Saudi Arabia remain one of the best teams in Asia.
Speaking about the prospect of playing in front of 60,000 spectators, following the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions on crowd sizes at events in the Kingdom, he said: “We had been notified earlier that the capacity of the stadium here will be around 60 percent only, due the Coronavirus restrictions, but yesterday we were told it is going to be 100 percent.
“We have not played in front of such a huge number of spectators for a while but it will not make any difference for our players. We are ready and hope this will be to our advantage.”
He added that many members of his squad play for teams in big European leagues and so are used to playing in front of big crowds.
A loss on Thursday would leave Japan facing an uphill battle in the qualifying group but Moriyasu said that he is not dwelling on that thought: “Tomorrow’s match is very tough but I have never thought about losing. There is a possibility that we lose but we will never give up (on reaching the finals in Qatar).”
Following the game against Japan, Saudi Arabia’s next World Cup qualifier will be against bottom-of-the-group China on Oct. 12 at the same venue.