LUSAIL, Qatar : Saudi Arabia coach Herve Renard had said the current generation would be forgotten about if they fail to make the last 16 of the World Cup but he may be having a rethink after fans showed their appreciation for his side despite their exit on Wednesday.
After opening their campaign in Qatar with a stunning 2-1 victory over Argentina the Saudis then lost 2-0 to Poland and saw their hopes of making the knockout phase vanish with a 2-1 defeat by Mexico.
Only the heroics of Saudi goalkeeper Mohamed Al-Owais prevented a humiliating defeat, though they still finished bottom of Group C, three points behind group winners Argentina.
A national holiday was declared to celebrate that incredible win over Lionel Messi’s side but the impact of the victory might be felt for much longer.
“No one around the world believed that we could perform this performance. Yes, in Saudi Arabia we know the players well, but they are unknown to fans around the world,” Renard said.
Saudi Arabia has been playing a bigger role in sport globally.
The country hosted its second Formula One Grand Prix in a row this year, while Newcastle United have been flying in the Premier League since they were bought by a Saudi-led consortium.
Saudi’s football federation is also hoping Cristiano Ronaldo can be lured to a local club after the Portuguese forward had his contract terminated by Manchester United. Media reports have linked the Portugal captain with a lucrative move to Al-Nassr.
Renard had urged his players to grab their opportunity to reach the knockout stage for just the second time in the country’s history but they came unstuck against the Mexicans at Lusail Stadium, with the team struggling to match their opponents’ intensity.
“We did our best and we will not forget the work we did together, I am proud to work with the team and the players, but we did not deserve to win today,” said Renard.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)