Herve Renard’s four-year reign as manager of the Saudi national team ended on Tuesday with a whimper as his team fell to a 2-1 friendly defeat in Jeddah at the hands of Bolivia.
The lasting image from a disappointing game, from the Saudi perspective, was perhaps the moment when Salem Al-Dawsari, who has shone during Renard’s time in charge, hugged the coach warmly after he equalized just before the break.
It was a touching moment that, even at that stage of the game, looked like a fond farewell to a tactician who was leaving to coach the French national women’s team.
#VIDEO: @Herve_Renard_HR thanks fans, supporters and the #Saudi government during his four-year tenure as coach of the @SaudiNT, says it was ‘never easy to take this kind of decision’ https://t.co/5myEdn3Ot5 pic.twitter.com/HOKkqNKF9d
— Arab News | Sport (@ArabNewsSport) March 29, 2023
That deal was reported by French media during the game as being done, and confirmed by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation a few minutes after the final whistle.
The visitors grabbed the winning goal in the second half to make it four wins in Asia for South American teams in the space of a day, after South Korea, Japan and Australia had all lost at home.
Few Saudi fans will have cared much about that. They left the game disappointed, especially with the porous defense that was on display. The Green Falcons have made progress under Renard but while there will be plenty for his successor to work with, there is also plenty still to do.
There were warning signs early on; in the seventh minute, Mohammed Al-Owais struggled to deal with a back-pass but recovered in time to make the save.
But then, after some promising moves from the hosts, the South Americans took the lead. Jaime Arrascaita’s low cross from the left should probably have been dealt with by Abdulelah Al-Amri but the Al-Nassr centre-back failed to clear and Marcelo Moreno was waiting to take advantage and poke the ball home from close range.
Saudi Arabia tried to push forward but, as was the case during their 2-1 loss to Venezuela on Friday, they struggled to carve out any clear openings. That began to change in the last 10 minutes of the first half, however. Their best chance up to that point came in the 35th minute when a free-kick fell to Al-Amri in the area but his shot on the turn went straight into the arms of goalkeeper Guillermo Viscarra.
Saleh Al-Shehri went closer five minutes later from a Mohammed Kanno cross but the striker’s shot from close range was blocked by Jairo Quinteros — illegally so according to the referee after he consulted the pitch-side monitor.
Up stepped Al-Dawsari, calmly sending Viscarra the wrong way and the ball into the bottom right-hand corner. It was his sixth successful penalty kick since missing one against Poland in the second game of the Qatar World Cup.
There was plenty of energy on display after the break. Abdul Aziz Al-Bishi, recalled to the side, chested the ball too hard when through on goal just before the hour, and seconds later Abdullah Al-Hamdan was perhaps relieved to see the offside flag raised as he shot straight at the goalkeeper while unmarked in the area. In the 65th minute, Al-Amri had the ball in the net but Al-Hamdan was offside.
Then Bolivia were back in front and it was another poor goal to concede. Al-Owais parried a low cross back into the area, Diego Medina fed the ball to Carmelo Algaranaz and the substitute had the luxury of time to juggle the ball, turn and fire a low shot into the bottom corner.
Saudi Arabia tried to get back on level terms but were unable to get the breakthrough they needed. All thoughts turned to Renard when the final whistle sounded, signaling the end of what will be remembered as a successful era, despite recent results.