From our Special Envoy in Doha,
To be mistaken all along the line, allegory. Coming out of the Lusail metro behind a procession of cheerful Argentines, we had in mind an easy match, where the Albiceleste would dominate Saudi Arabia without forcing in a stadium won over to the cause of the Argentines. The latter had shown up at the stadium in numbers and it was obvious that we would hear them yelling for two hours. False and again false.
Not only did the “hinchas” take a monumental rout in the stands, outclassed by amazing Saudi fans of acoustic power, but in addition Argentina was surprised on the ground by conceding a humiliating defeat. A scenario that no one saw coming. “I can’t believe it,” pinched even Najjeb, a 19-year-old Saudi fan, at the end of the match. Nobody, except the main players in the meeting, Hervé Renard in the lead.
The speech of a king
At 1-0 for Argentina at the break and 56 goals canceled for offside, the double-winner of the African Cup of Nations has found the resources to draw a speech worthy of General de Gaulle in perfectly clichéd English, with “R”s everywhere. French, what? We take our hats off to the translator who was able to reproduce the intensity of Renard’s speech in all its dramaturgy. First calm, then possessed, then calm again. Essentially :
“After three minutes we conceded a goal [10 en réalité], it’s football, it happens. It’s our fault. After that we pushed, pushed, pushed. We had opportunities, but not many. We don’t put enough intensity in the duels, BOOM, MORE [on retranscrit pêle-mêle]. Afterwards, in possession of the ball, it’s your talent that will make the difference. There are 45 minutes left. Stay confident. »
The Saudis entered the game when the Argentines left. Scaloni’s men were probably taken aback by an opponent suddenly touched by grace. And it only took five minutes and two pretty great goals – especially the second – to bring down the house of cards. A series of 36 games without defeat takes off with all the certainties that we could have about this team. Of course, no hasty conclusions. In 2010, Spain fell from a height against Switzerland before finally bringing the Cup home. Argentina remains one of the favorites of this World Cup, but it has grilled a joker.
More than a matter of quality – it is obvious that the most talented team lost on Tuesday – Hervé Renard points to a relevant theory on the motivational gap between the two teams. On the one hand, the South American elite, eager to get into their tournament well, but nothing more. On the other, Saudi Arabia, ready to do battle with “the best player of all time”, to take up the formula of Al-Shehri in the mixed zone. “Lionel Messi, against Saudi Arabia, he will say to himself that he must start the match well, of course… explains Renard. But his motivation will not be the same as if he were playing against Brazil. It’s normal. »
Tactical thoroughness and optimism
Reducing Saudi success to a story of a galvanized group would nevertheless be reductive. Admittedly, the players fought like gladiators in the arena, released improbable decisive tackles, released miraculous balls on the line and sometimes even showed excess: six yellow cards and a defender down on a kick. UFC-worthy knee after an outing by his own guard. But they also and above all showed remarkable tactical cohesion, fruit of almost a month of preparation pre-World Cup.
The 4-4-2, flexible in defense at five according to the phases, is pushed to its climax. Hervé Renard’s tactical meticulousness is also noticeable in the severity of his analysis of the first 45 minutes, which are relatively honest. And yet: “Tactically, we weren’t good in the first half. Our block was quite compact, but the pressure from the last two centrals on Paredes was not enough. »
If he could, he would have gone and kicked Paredes, Di Maria and Messi himself. He was dying to, all agitated as he was on the edge of the lawn, muscles bulging under his now traditional fitted shirt. It was even believed that he would eventually implode by dint of waiting for the three liberating whistles. A tension that was matched only by the relaxation that followed. “We had a nice celebration for twenty minutes, and that’s it. Saudi Arabia does not intend to stop there. The first scorer of the meeting allows himself to dream. “We have three points, we have two games left. We have a good chance of passing. Winning against the favorite of the competition is a good boost. “When you arrive at the World Cup, you have to believe in yourself,” insists Hervé Renard. Against Argentina, it paid off. And who knows how far that faith can take this team.