“On paper they should beat them” is a phrase regularly heard in conversations about football. As people gathered around televisions in their homes as well as pubs, cafes and bars world wide to watch Argentina play Saudi Arabia in the FIFA World Cup it will no doubt have entered conversations once more.
A team containing superstars such as Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria and Julian Alvarez would “on paper” surely beat Saudi Arabia's line-up of Hattan Bahebri, Saleh Al-Shehri and Riyadh Sharahili?
Apparently not, as the Saudi’s ran out 2-1 winners in the biggest upset of the competition so far.
You don't have to search for cycling parallels, but if you did you'd probably end-up alluding to Biniam Girmay scoring victory at Gent-Wevelgem this year, outsprinting the Lionel Messi of the cobbled classics, Mathieu van der Poel.
That’s exactly what Saudi Arabia coach Hervé Renard has done when explaining his team's shock victory to French news outlet beIN Sports in a television interview.
Magnifique interview d'Hervé Renard, sélectionneur français de l'Arabie Saoudite 🇸🇦 qui compare sa victoire face à l'Argentine 🇦🇷 à une classique de cyclisme 🤩Merci @Bat pour l'information.🎥🎙 Interview @beinsports_FR pic.twitter.com/DT2xrcgQViNovember 27, 2022
“We joked about the win with my staff, because we are all keen on cycling,” Renard said. “Against Argentina it was a classic, we were with Van Aert, Van der Poel and Pogačar too, and then they looked at each other, we managed to get away and we crossed the line as winners,” he added.
BEATING LIONEL MESSI IS LIKE BEATING MATHIEU VAN DER POEL
Saudi Arabia turned around a one goal deficit from a Messi penalty to win the game 2-1, which players said afterwards was thanks to an inspired team talk from Renard at halftime.
The Saudi’s then lost 2-0 to Poland in their following game which leaves them in a difficult position with one group match still to play.
“It will now be necessary to beat Mexico to qualify,” Renard said. “Of to draw and count on a victory for Argentina,” he added.
With the recent dominance of the three riders mentioned by Renard, upsets like the one caused by Saudi Arabia are rare in some of cycling’s biggest one day races. When Girmay outsprinted van der Poel at Gent-Wevelgem, history was made as the Intermarché–Wanty–Gobert rider became the first black African cyclist to win the Belgian classic.
“I hope to participate in the Tour of Flanders and the Tour de France next year. After my first encounter with the Flemish classics, it is certainly a goal to prepare myself even better for these races,” Girmay said.
“Winning would be a dream come true.”
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