Saudi Arabia coach Herve Renard has challenged his players to make history by sealing their place in the knockout phase of the World Cup with victory over Mexico on Wednesday.
The Saudis know a win in their third and final Group C match will be enough to reach the knockout stages for the first time since 1994, when Saeed Al-Owairan’s stunning strike sank Belgium.
And despite pulling off one of the greatest World Cup upsets over Argentina in their opening match, Renard has warned that result will count for nothing if they fail to follow it through by reaching the last 16.
“If these players want the fans to remember them they have to make history, otherwise people will forget in 20 or 30 years, because the last time we reached the second round was in 1994,” said Renard.
“The most important thing is that we are still alive for this game and we have the chance to qualify, but we will have to fight very hard. Mexico have a lot of experience in the World Cup and a better record than Saudi Arabia.”
Renard will have to shuffle his starting line-up for a match that could even see the Saudis progress with a draw, depending on the outcome of the other Group C game between Argentina and Poland.
Talismanic captain Salman Al-Faraj has already headed home after being ruled out of the remainder of the tournament with a leg injury, while fellow midfielder Abdulelah Al-Malki is suspended after picking up his second yellow card in the defeat to Poland.
Mexico must win and hope Poland beat Argentina, or else beat the Saudis by at least three goals in order to ensure an unlikely progression after two below-par performances.
But they are boosted by the return of captain Andres Guardado, whom it was widely assumed would miss the match after limping out of the defeat to Argentina with a leg injury.
Instead Guardado has declared himself injury-free and ready to take on the Saudis, insisting his team-mates must believe that they are still in with a chance of reaching the knockout stages.
“We believe in our chances and we hold on to them,” said Guardado. “When you get a blow like the other day you need to digest it and turn the page very quickly.
“We have a big chance to forget the defeat to Argentina with a big game against Saudi Arabia. We can still qualify, we believe in our chances and nobody can tell us it is impossible.”
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