Saudi Arabia's 3-0 defeat to Uzbekistan in Tashkent was one of the biggest upsets in recent years in Asian football, yet the Saudis are confident they will be able to bounce back on their way to a place the FIFA World Cup South Africa 2010™.
In front of a full house in Pakhtakor stadium, Saudi goalkeeper Tisir Al Antaif conceded three goals, a result which caused shockwaves back home and led many experts and fans to demand that coach Helio Cesar dos Anjos be sacked.
And although he was forced to attend a hearing in the presence of the top Saudi officials as soon as he returned to Riyadh to explain what happened in Uzbekistan, Anjos kept his job. It seems that his acceptance of full responsibility was respected by his employers.
"I take full charge for our defeat in Tashkent," said Anjos. "It was a good lesson for us, we might have been only thinking of Australia or Japan as our main contenders to reach the World Cup finals, but we are aware now that we should respect all of our opponents."
A change in thought
He confirmed his words when he insisted on not making any vital changes to his squad, instead planning only to modify his strategies. "There is nothing wrong with my players," Anjos said. "I know I am not coaching Brazil or Argentina, but I also have some of the best Asian talents. We need to alter our tactics and maybe our formation to meet our objectives.
But many are convinced that the Saudi team is turning to a one-man team, especially after an early injury to striker Yasser Al Kahtani, played a major role in the defeat they conceded in Tashkent.
"Yasser is an outstanding striker and there is no doubt he is one of a kind, but we have some very promising players who could fill in his place like Taysser Al Jassem. And we need to adapt to the absence of Yasser or we will face some serious trouble in these qualifiers," Yasser's usual strike partner Malek Moaaz said.
Domestic campaign gives cause for hope
Meanwhile, a breeze of confidence spread among the Saudi fans following a terrific season in which Al Hilal were crowned champions after a fierce competition with rivals Al Ittihad. Anjos was more than happy to watch players like Al Shabab's international striker Nasser Al-Shamrani in impressive form.
Yet, his main concern at the moment is to decide on a suitable European camp to prepare for next month's FIFA World Cup qualifiers. "We will need to prepare in Europe for a week and I count on this camp to prepare for our next match. I have no doubt that we will be able to reach the next round of the qualifiers where the real battle will start," Anjos assured.