Argentina, Mexico and Poland may all have been fancied to progress from Group C at the World Cup ahead of Saudi Arabia, but after their stunning win over the Argentines, the Saudis are firmly in the mix ahead of their Wednesday game against Mexico.
In their five previous participations, Saudi Arabia have qualified for the round of 16 only once, on their debut at the tournament in 1994.
In Qatar, Poland lead Group C on four points, one ahead of Argentina and Saudi Arabia, while Mexico are on one point.
If Saudi Arabia want to progress they will have to beat Mexico, regardless of the outcome of the match between Poland and Argentina.
A draw would mean they need Poland to beat Argentina, while a defeat would complicate the permutations, as they would need to lose by only one goal while hoping that Poland win their match by a bigger margin.
“No one around the world thought that we could play with this level. Yes, in Saudi Arabia we know the players well, but they are unknown to the fans around the world,” Saudi coach Herve Renard told a news conference after the Poland game.
As in the first two matches, the Saudis will be supported by thousands of fans due to the ease of travel from Saudi Arabia to Qatar.
The 54-year-old Renard indicated his team will play the next match in Lusail against Mexico with the same energy and desire.
“We need the fans to make history. I want a green stadium again, maybe we will play in the white jersey, but that isn’t important, we want the support from the fans,” he added.
Things will not be easy for Saudi Arabia, however, given that Mexico also have a chance of reaching the last 16, and for the eighth time in a row in their case.
Mexico need to beat Saudi Arabia by at least a three-goal margin, with Poland not losing to Argentina. If the Copa America champions beat the Poles, it will depend on the final result.
Mexico will be reminding themselves that they have never lost to Saudi Arabia in five previous matches, and won twice with 5-0 and 5-1 results in the FIFA Confederations Cup.
But the Mexicans are struggling offensively and the team did not score a goal in the first two matches against Poland and Argentina. They will be desperate for this not to be the first time they fail to score at a World Cup.
“As long as there are chances, we always need to try, Saudi Arabia need to win the match and score goals, and so do we,” Mexico’s coach Tata Martino said.
Worst case Scenario
One the 2022 FIFA World Cup favourites, Argentina, being knocked out in the group would be the biggest shock in Qatar. Argentina who lost their opening match to Saudi Arabia need nothing other than a win against Poland which would take them to seven points and at the peak of Group B. But a repeat of what befell them in the opening group match encounter would be catastrophic for Messi and his team. In such a situation a draw for Saudi Arabia or a win for Mexico would send the Argentines packing.
Saudi Arabia and Poland to go through