The World Cup has a shocking World Cup history and this time it’s about football. It started with Lionel Messi setting another record for Argentina and ended with the superstar staring sadly from mid-distance after Saudi Arabia staged a stunning upset to end the 36-game goalless streak. defeat of the holders of the Copa América.
A prodigious strike from Salem al-Dawsari, moments after Saleh al-Shehri had canceled out Messi’s penalty, earned Saudi Arabia a win that left Lusail Stadium buzzing with an audible sense of disbelief long after the final whistle. The Saudi bench spilled onto the pitch when Slovenian referee Slavko Vincic finally ended his ordeal after eight long minutes of stoppage time. Captain Salman al-Faraj assisted injured in the first half , stepped back on crutches to join in the wild celebrations.
The winners weren’t the only ones struggling to comprehend the magnitude of their achievement, as the faces of the Argentinian players and fans showed. One of the favorites is in big trouble.
Argentina’s 18th World Cup was their first since Diego Maradona’s death almost exactly two years ago. “It’s strange not to see him in the stands, not to see people go crazy when he appears,” said Messi, Maradona’s successor in the No.10 shirt. “He loved the national team. He always was and always will be with us from somewhere. He was everywhere in the vast Lusail stadium. The No.10, with Diego or Messi printed above, dominated the crowds that finally threw a party at the World Cup in preparation for Argentina’s opening game Maradona’s face filled many flags and banners draped inside the 88 capacity arena 966 places which will host the final on December 18. It is the ardent desire of Messi, and all of Argentina, that he be there for one last chance to embellish his historic career with the crowning glory. in jeopardy after an increasingly desperate display.
Lionel Scaloni’s team had signaled a positive intention from the first whistle. Impressive Argentine support was almost rewarded with the perfect start when Messi, ghosted into the box and on a throw-in from Lautaro Martínez, forced Mohammed al-Owais into a fine low save with just 96 seconds left. had to wait much longer for the moment they craved.
Vincic suddenly interrupted play after a Messi free kick was cleared by the Saudi goalkeeper. Saudi hearts sank as he sprinted to the pitchside monitor to watch a replay of Saud Abdulhamid battling Leandro Parades on the ground in a corner seconds earlier.
It was a clear penalty, guided by VAR. Messi approached the spot, waited for Owais to enter down the left and kicked a nonchalant penalty to the right of the keeper. In doing so, Messi became the first Argentine player to score in four World Cup tournaments – 2006, 2014, 2018 and 2022 – and the fifth man in history to achieve the feat.
The script was being written but slowly, forcefully and impressively, Saudi Arabia tore it apart. Hervé Renard’s side were backed by raucous mass support and showed in their immediate response to the delay that they possessed the energy, organization and adventure to destabilize their praised opponents. Their commitment to a high defensive line, however, was a high-risk strategy that almost played into the Argentine’s hands.
Argentina had three goals disallowed for offside in the space of 13 minutes in the first half. Messi was clearly offside when he was played by Alejandro Gómez and beat Owais with a measured finish. Martínez was also offside when he rounded the Saudi keeper and converted Messi’s ball. The Internazionale forward, however, was unlucky for his first and Argentina’s second offside.
VAR replays showed Martínez’s shoulder a fraction ahead of Abdulhamid as he raced towards Rodrigo De Paul’s defensive pass. But, to the naked eye, left-back Yasser al-Shahrani was playing Martínez and he didn’t appear on the VAR replay shown to the crowd.
Scaloni’s side dominated the first half, but with De Paul having a good chance, Ángel Di María failing to convert at the far post and Abdulhamid denying Messi with a fine challenge inside the the surface, Saudi Arabia left for the interval with hope, if not their injured captain, Faraj. They reemerged as an unrecognizable attacking force and upset the game, Argentina and Group C within eight minutes of the restart.
The 51st-ranked side in the world – one below Qatar, how strange – quickly equalized when Firas al-Buraikan sent a ball from midfield into Shehri’s path. The striker, one of nine Saudi outfit starters to play club football for Al Hilal, passed Cristian Romero on the left before beating Emiliano Martínez with a precise and clinical finish that crept in at the inside the second post. Pandemonium ensued among Saudi supporters. And their celebrations had only just begun.
Saudi Arabia pounced against a clearly shaken Argentina and struck again five minutes later. It was a worthy goal from the World Cup stage, from Messi’s boot, but it came from Dawsari’s right foot. Nawaf al-Abid, Faraj’s replacement, had goal-related training led by Romero. Dawsari chases after him and collects the ball on the other side of the penalty area. He turned away from two weak Argentinian tackles, ran through a desperate Parades lunge and, before De Paul could close it, swept a superb right-footed shot past Martínez and into the top corner. Riyadh may well have quivered with the reverberations of its traveling fans.
Panic immediately set in for Argentina and their attempts to avoid a damaging humiliation on day one were born out of desperation despite over 40 minutes remaining. Hassan al-Tambakti denied Messi an exceptional tackle as the No.10 rushed into the box and celebrated as if he had just scored a third goal. Substitute Abdulelah al-Amri did the same by hacking the line of Julián Álvarez, who was penalized for an infringement anyway. Owais did the rest. The Al Hilal keeper saved Nicolás Tagliafico from close range, commanded his area by any means necessary and delighted his fans by holding a header from Álvarez deep into stoppage time.