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The four Arab teams preparing for the 2022 FIFA World Cup had mixed results in the first round of this crucial international break. There was plenty to talk about around the Games and below are just five things to look forward to as the quartet wraps up the final official international meeting before the action kicks off in Qatar on November 20th.

1. Saudi Arabia must score against the USA

Saudi Arabia took some positives from Friday’s 0-0 draw with Ecuador, not least as they avoided a third straight defeat since World Cup qualifiers ended.

But the Green Falcons haven’t scored in 295 minutes of football and, to be honest, they didn’t often look like scoring. In the three friendlies against Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador scoring chances remained rare.

There have been a couple of opportunities lately and Firas Al-Buraikan and Nawaf Al-Abed should have done better with their efforts, but coach Herve Renard needs to find a way to get Salem Al-Dawsari in the game and into areas where he can make his creative talents.

Salman Al-Faraj, with his ability to retain possession and bring composure in the middle of the park, has been missed in that regard and it is vital the skipper gets fit and stays fit.

There aren’t many attacking options available for Renard, so goals must come from all areas of the pitch. Against strong sides like Argentina, Poland and Mexico at the World Cup, Saudi Arabia will need to capitalize on their limited number of chances and be clinical on counterattacks and set pieces. Another goal on Tuesday sets the alarm bells ringing.

2. Tunisia gets its Test against Brazil

The North Africans extended their unbeaten run to seven games with a 1-0 win against Comoros on Thursday. It wasn’t the Carthage Eagles’ most fluid performance, but the real test comes Tuesday with a game against Brazil in Paris. There will be a lot of support for Tunisia at Parc des Princes and they want to see if this team is the real deal. The victories against Chile and especially Japan in Japan in June were hugely impressive, but here comes the five-time world champions.

Placed in a strong group that includes holders France, Denmark and Australia, Tunisia will get a good sense of where they currently stand against a Brazilian side who are in great form. The Selecao have scored 21 goals in their last six games, conceding just one, and the opposition level has been decent too.

It’s very impressive and means head coach Jalel Kadri will see how well his team can defend against world-class players.

3. Qatar needs to rediscover their mojo

The World Cup hosts started last week with a clear 3-0 defeat against Croatia’s U-23 national team. Bad results can happen, but Friday’s 2-0 loss to Canada was more worrying. The opening period was really bad as the North Americans’ two goals both came in the first 15 minutes.

Qatar’s performance improved afterwards but the damage was done. The players clearly lacked energy and concentration.

Coach Felix Sanchez has literally conquered the team spots in recent years and it would be disappointing to see the 2019 Asian champions lose their lead with the tournament within reach. The Canadians’ wake-up call needs to be heard and Tuesday’s game against Chile has become even more important. Regardless of whether there is a win or not, there must be a return to the mentality monsters that won the 2019 Continental Championships.

4. Moroccan smiles as Ziyech comes back

Morocco gave new coach Walid Regragui a 2-0 win over Chile in his first game since his appointment in August. The man who guided Wydad to the African Champions League title earlier this summer was a popular choice to replace Vahid Halilhodzic.

Most of the headlines have focused on Hakim Ziyech’s return for the first time since June 2021, with the Chelsea star’s breakdown in relationship with Halilhodzic seen as the main reason behind the Franco-Bosnian manager’s sacking.

Now Ziyech is back ahead of the World Cup and it’s a big boost with tough group games against Belgium, Canada and Croatia coming up.

His performance was solid rather than spectacular and the same goes for the game in general, but it sets the game up well against Paraguay. Another confidence-boosting performance against South American opponents would be welcome and would reinforce the widespread belief that the managerial change, although late, was necessary.

5. Toughest US test to date for Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia have faced Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador since qualifying, failing to win any of the three games.

It doesn’t get any easier against a USA team ranked 14th in the world and full of experienced internationals playing in some of the best leagues in the world.

Christian Pulisic plays for Chelsea, full-back Sergino Dest for AC Milan and Weston McKennie for Juventus. There are others in the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, German Bundesliga, French Ligue 1 as well as MLS.

Coach Gregg Berhalter is keen to get back on track after Friday’s 2-0 defeat by Japan.

Just like the 0-0 draw with Ecuador, Saudi Arabia will have a lot to defend, but there’s no need to sit back too much. There’s also no reason why the Asian side can’t match the side who have reached the knockout stages in three of their last four World Cups before missing out last. When midfield can be more involved in the game and better able to hold and utilize possession, those elusive goals might not be far off.


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