Saudi Arabia have reacted to last week's 1-0 defeat in Korea DPR by reshuffling their coaching staff, with Portuguese Jose Peseiro stepping in for Nasser Al Johar.
This major switch, which was completed in remarkably swift fashion, reflects just how concerned the Saudis are about their faltering FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaign. With just four points garnered from as many games so far, the Sons of Deserts have slipped to second from bottom in Group 2 midway through Asia's final preliminary round.
Despite this, however, those who follow the Saudis closely will know that anyone writing off the Saudis will do so at their peril. Indeed, with a new man at the helm, the three-time Asian champions will be widely expected to turn the corner.
History offers hope
If their past qualifying experiences are anything to go by, it certainly seems that, where Saudi Arabia and coaching switches are concerned, miracles really do happen.
During qualifying for the previous FIFA World Cup at Germany 2006, Argentinian Gabriel Calderon came in for Dutchman Gerard van der Lem, who despite guiding the through to Asia's qualifying final round, was sacked for the team's failure to progress beyond the group stage at the 2004 AFC Asian Cup. The switch, though surprising in some respects, produced the desire result as the former Albiceleste star guided the team to their fourth FIFA World Cup finals.
The Saudis' experiences four years earlier were even more memorable. Under former Yugoslav coach Slobodan Santrac, the team were in real jeopardy, having taken just a point from the opening two matches in final stage of qualifying for Korea/Japan 2002. Ironically, Al Johar was the man to take over on that occasion, and under the home-grown tactician the Saudis bounced back to overcome formidable rivals such as Iran and Iraq to book a place at the finals.
A tough task
Peseiro's short spell with Saudi giants Al Hilal between 2006 and 2007, during which he guided the club to 15 wins, was clearly taken into account in his hiring by the Saudi authorities. However, question marks remain over the team's prospects under the 48-year-old, who some claim lacks the necessary pedigree at international level and is too much of a risk in this, his first job as a national coach.
Furthermore, the former Sporting and Panathinaikos manager, who will arrive at Riyadh on Friday, has little time to settle into his job, with Saudi Arabia traveling to face Iran in their next, crucial qualifying fixture just 38 days from now.
Even if his side could return from Tehran with maximum points - always a tall order - Peseiro has only three days to prepare the team ahead of their next fixture at home to United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia will conclude their campaign with matches against Korea Republic and Korea DPR, the section's current top two teams, both of whom have already inflicted defeat on the under-pressure Saudis.