There is a skill to accepting second chances whenever they present themselves. Just ask Denmark, who, to widespread surprise, made the most of their late invitation to UEFA EURO 1992 in place of Yugoslavia by going on to win their first continental title.
Saudi Arabia are intent on doing something similar when the AFC Futsal Championship gets under way in Uzbekistan next week, having taken the place of the suspended Kuwait team in the competition, an unexpected reprieve they are hoping to make the most of.
With the Greens drawn in a very tightGroup A that also features the hosts, Lebanon and Kyrgyzstan, the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) have turned to Belgian coach Yves Heremans in a bid to pull off what would be an unlikely achievement.
Discussing his new brief with FIFA.com, Heremans said: “It’s exciting. It’s an honour for me to be coaching the Saudi team. I’ll be doing everything I can to achieve big things and develop the sport in the Kingdom.”
Formerly Belgium’s national futsal team coach, Heremans never imagined he would one day be in charge of a Saudi side, and remembers the meeting between the two nations at the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™ well, when he was only 19.
“I didn’t think I’d one day have the opportunity to coach the Saudi national team,” he explained. “I can still recall the match we lost to them in 1994. I watched it with my family and it took us all by surprise. Every time I come across a Saudi person, I’m reminded of the result.”
A bright future
While football is very popular in Saudi Arabia, where the national league championship is closely followed by fans across the country, futsal has an altogether lower profile.
Uzbekistan 2016 will mark Saudi Arabia’s AFC Futsal Championship debut, and the 41-year-old Belgian believes the tournament has a major contribution to make to the development of futsal in the country: “If we can come away with some good results in the AFC Championship, it will increase the popularity of the sport in the years to come, as there are quite a few clubs around and a lot of people who play.”
The country’s football players have so far appeared at four FIFA World Cup competitions, setting an example that their futsal counterparts are now hoping to follow, their task having been aided with the launch of a national futsal championship this season.
Welcoming that development, Heremans said: “We are going to do everything we can to develop the game of futsal by unearthing talented young players in cooperation with the clubs and the SAFF’s futsal committee, which is headed by Salah Al-Sakka, who has done a lot of good work already.”
The Belgian added: “We are going to take it step by step. I haven’t been here long but I’ve already seen that the players want to improve. They lack the experience that’s needed to win, and that will take time, but I’m sure that Saudi futsal will improve an awful lot in a short space of time.”
Hereman’s charges will now look to repay their coach’s faith on the court next week, when they embark on their first quest for continental glory.