Herve Renard has selected his Saudi Arabian squad for this month’s Spanish training camp that will include World Cup warm-ups against Ecuador on Sept. 23 and then the US four days later, and the Frenchman looks to have ended dreams of Qatar for some and given others a tantalizing hope.
For those in the 26 who are not automatic starters, this is likely to be the last opportunity to impress the head coach before he starts to firm up his squad for Group G games against Argentina, Poland and Mexico.
After June defeats against South American opposition Colombia and Venezuela, the Green Falcons will also be looking for better results as the countdown to Qatar really starts. All that is left is an October game against Honduras and then November tests with Iceland and Panama.
This squad is dominated by the big clubs. Eight come from Al-Hilal, five from Al-Nassr, five from Al-Shabab, three from Al-Ittihad and two from Al-Ahli despite the fact that the Jeddah giants are now playing in the second division. Just two, Firas Al-Buraikan of Al-Fateh and Abha’s Riyadh Sharahili are from elsewhere.
Despite Al-Hilal’s contingent, there is no room for Abdullah Al-Mayouf, which surely means that the goalkeeper’s international career is over.
Many see the Al-Hilal No. 1 as the best in the country, but the 35- year-old has not made the cut. It is not his form that has cost him a place.
In 2019, Al-Mayouf announced his retirement from the international game before changing his mind earlier this year and making himself available, but it has not made a difference to Renard. It means that Mohammed Al-Owais, who is No. 2 at Al-Hilal and has not played yet this season, is likely to be the No. 1 for his country while Al-Mayouf keeps playing for his club but can take a rest this November and December.
Al-Mayouf accepted the decision with good grace.
“I do not wish to discuss the issue of joining the national team,” he said in a television interview. “Coach Renard has his opinion and has made his choice and I respect his view. I wish the group of players that will participate in the World Cup in Qatar all the best.”
Fahad Al-Muwallad returns to the team despite serving a ban for failing a dope test. The winger left Al-Ittihad earlier this month to join Al-Shabab but has yet to play at all this season. Renard is known to rate the 27-year-old who needs to demonstrate that he is still sharp despite his inactivity.
That is also the case for midfielder Mohamed Kanno, who has also been banned from domestic action as a punishment for signing a contract with two clubs. Kanno’s energy and drive were apparent during qualification and, once more, the Al-Hilal man has much to do in Spain.
There are issues in attack. Of the three strikers who featured most in World Cup qualification, Saleh Al-Shehri is still injured and Al-Hilal teammate Abdullah Al-Hamdan is finding minutes hard to come by. Al-Buraikan remains and is joined up front by Haroune Camara, who scored a fine goal for Al-Ittihad in the opening round of the season as well as Al-Ahli’s Haitham Asiri.
There is plenty of experience in midfield with the cultured Nawaf Al-Abed, who is fit after some injury issues and, playing for Al-Shabab, included alongside stalwarts such as captain Salman Al-Faraj and the excellent Salem Al-Dawsari. There are new faces here too. Al-Ittihad’s Awad Al-Nashri, who featured in Saudi Arabia’s triumph at the 2022 AFC U-23 Asian Cup in June, could receive a first cap as could Riyadh Sharahili who comes in from Abha, a rare addition not from one of the usual big clubs.
Talented young players such as Ayman Yahya and Turki Al-Ammar, stars of that U-23 team, have been on the fringes of the senior side but have not made the cut. Unless they manage to seriously shine in the Saudi Professional League in the coming weeks, it looks as if their dreams of Qatar are over, though both still have plenty of time in their careers and can start thinking about North America four years later.
That is something that Abdulellah Al-Malki may have to do too. The Al-Hilal defensive midfielder tore his cruciate ligament while playing for his country against Japan in February and has not played since. It is looking increasingly likely that the 27-year-old is going to run out of time.
In defense, Ahmed Bamsaud, left-back with Al-Ittihad, should earn his first international cap, but the other names are familiar ones though Al-Hilal’s Mohammed Al-Breik is absent. Many will be looking on to see if Hassan Tambakti, the 23-year-old who has been in excellent form this season for an Al-Shabab defense that has yet to be breached, can get in the starting lineup.
With kick-off just two months away, all it may take is one stellar performance in front of the coach to earn a starting place to face the likes of Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski or perhaps vice-versa. For those who have not made this list of 26, Qatar is not completely out of sight, but it is going to take something special to get there.