The squad also had a crazy 36-game victory streak that began in 2019. But on Tuesday, in an unsuspecting World Cup Group C match, Saudi Arabia stunned Argentina 2-1 and completely turned the tide.
The white and blue team, one of the favourites going into this competition, were ill-prepared for the tactical masterclass that the ‘Man in White’ had prepared for them.
The man in question here is Hervé Renard, a manager who is legendary in the continent of Africa.
Renard handled a few clubs in Europe and Asia before taking the Zambia gig. He took them to the AFCON quarter-finals for the first time in 14 years before switching to take command of Angola, where he resigned after only seven months in charge.
He came back to Zambia in 2011 and steered the country toward its first-ever AFCON championship in 2012.
Herve Renard beat prime Ivory Coast, with icons like Didier Drogba and the Toure brothers playing, with a team that were never seen as contenders, let alone favourites, to win anything.
He took charge of the Ivory Coast in 2015 to accomplish the unthinkable. Renard won the AFCON again, this time with Ivory Coast, making him the only manager to do it with two separate countries.
The most unusual part about all this is the answer that he would probably give when asked about what is helping him win all these games. You would imagine him to say “the tactics” or “the passion” or something along those lines, but for him, it is “the white shirt”.
The white attire worn by Renard is likely to rank among the most recognisable in all of football. For Renard, wearing a white shirt with the top button undone embodies some type of superstition.
He explained why and how he began donning the shirt.
“We (Zambia) were playing in the second game of the (2010) Africa Cup of Nations against Cameroon. I wore a light blue shirt, but we lost 3-2 so in the following game, I wore a white shirt. We won and finished first in the group, in front of Cameroon.”
When asked about why he never changes, he had a simple explanatory response.
“I won two Africa Cup of Nations on a white shirt, so you want me to change for what?
“During the penalty shoot-out for the 2015 Afcon final between Ivory Coast and Ghana we missed the first two but went ahead to win. So do you want me to wear a red shirt for the next AFCON I am in charge of a team? No. Not possible. Sometimes I am superstitious. That will never change.”
We don’t blame him for this superstition. Many personalities in sports have set routines that they do not want disturbed. Rafael Nadal, the tennis legend, is a prime example of this.
Sometimes, it is more about the mental state it puts them in than any sort of luck.
Ultimately, the fans won’t care what the manager is wearing any more than what he ate for dinner last night. If it works for him and gets the desired results, that’s all that matters.
And Saudi Arabians would surely be hoping Renard bought enough white shirts with him. They were given a national holiday as a result of the victory. That’s how much it means to them. That’s what football is all about.