Brave and brilliant Saudi Arabia delivered one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history when they stunned two-time winners Argentina in a fantastic Group C opening game in Lusail.
Saudi Arabia, ranked at No. 51 in the world, could have been finished and dusted in the first half when Lionel Messi opened the scoring from the penalty spot before Argentina ruled out three goals for offside.
But Saudi Arabia turned the game on its head in a staggering 10 minutes after half-time, Saleh Al-Shehri equalized with little effort and Salem Al Dawsari fired them up to unleash chaos in the stands.
After showing their ruthlessness on one side, the Green Falcons displayed resilience on the other, holding off a stellar Argentine front line to secure only their fourth World Cup win and open the group wide.
Lionel Scaloni’s Argentines entered the tournament among favorites after a 36-game unbeaten run that included winning the 2021 Copa America.
They must now do whatever it takes to keep alive their hopes of a first global triumph since 1986 and giving Messi a fitting end to what is very likely to be his World Cup swan song.
They meet Mexico on Saturday while Saudi Arabia meets Poland.
One of the biggest shocks of the World Cup
Well, who saw this coming?
Argentina were among the elite teams traveling to Qatar – tipped by many to go all the way, with a star-studded squad that’s as resilient at the back as they are ruthless in attack.
In Russia 2018 they were chaos personified, hacking managers ahead of the event and meanwhile starting in the starting XI before being eliminated in the last 16.
But under Scaloni they’ve pulled themselves together in earnest. They don’t concede many goals and don’t score much – in five games before the World Cup they kept five clean sheets and scored 16 times – and hadn’t suffered defeat since losing to Brazil in the 2019 Copa America final.
That run is now over, and in a spectacular, humiliating way.
Unlike their opponents, few saw Saudi Arabia make a dent in the tournament. Of the 32 participating nations, only Ghana ranks lower. They had three wins before, but none of them were bigger.
In wild scenes, their players fell to the grass after full-time, hugging and screaming to the skies as the bench rushed onto the pitch to join them, snaking past the distraught Argentine players.
Luck was ridden, particularly in the first half when the writing was on the wall early on by Messi’s penalty – awarded after Leandro Paredes wrestled onto the pitch. Had Messi or Lautaro Martinez timed their attacking runs better, it could have gone 4-0 at the break.
Saudi Arabia remained competitive and used their moment in spectacular fashion.
Al-Shehri struck in the bottom corner of Emi Martinez’s goal, Salem Al Dawsari in the top corner – both ruthless finishes, both a hammer blow against Argentina that left them down.
They advanced on Saudi Arabia, threatening in an increasingly desperate search for a way back, but each time a man in green stretched out a limb to attack or threw in a body to block it.
Keeper Mohammed Al Owais plucked balls out of the air and missed targeted shots. In his absence, Abdulelah Al Amri headed a shot on target off the line.
In the end, eight minutes were added and nearly 14 played, most of them in the Saudi Arabian half, accompanied by screams of excitement and fear from the crowd.
The final whistle confirmed the unbelievable and sent Herve Renard’s side delirious. They are the first non-European side to beat Argentina at a World Cup since Cameroon in 1990.
If Argentina needs something to hold on to, it’s reaching the final after losing their opening match 42 years ago. When you’re losing group games, it’s often better to do that first and recover games.
As for Saudi Arabia, the last three teams that defeated Argentina at the World Cup have won the competition (Germany 2014, France 2018) or reached the final (Croatia 2018).
Few will predict that, but they now have a great opportunity to repeat their 1994 performance by reaching the last 16.
- 13RomeroReplaced byMartinezat 59′protocol
- 3tagliaficoReplaced byAkuñaat 71′protocol
- 11Di Maria
- 5ParedesReplaced byFernandezat 59′protocol
- 17Gomez VillaverdeReplaced byAlvarezat 59′protocol
- 21Al Owais90 minutes booked
- 12AbdulhamidBooked at 82 minutes
- 17Al Tambakti
- 5Al BulayhiBooked at 75 minutes
- 13Al Mohammadi Al ShahraniReplaced byAl Buraikat 90+9′protocol
- 8thAl-Wahbi Al-MalkiBooked at 67 minutes
- 9Al-BrikanReplaced byAsiriat 89′protocol
- 7Al FarajReplaced byAl Abidat 45+4′protocolBooked at 88 minutesReplaced byAl-Amriat 88′protocol
- 10Al DawsariBooked at 79 minutes
- 11Al ShehriReplaced byAl-Ghannamat 78′protocol
- 1Al Rubaie Al Yami
- 6Al Buraik
- fifteenAl Hasan
- 16Al Naji
- 18Al Abid
- 20Al Obud
- 22Al-Suweiti Al-Aqidi
- 24Al Shardan Al Dawsari
- Slavko Vincic
Game ends, Argentina 1, Saudi Arabia 2.
End of the second half, Argentina 1, Saudi Arabia 2.
attempt saved. Julián Álvarez (Argentina) header from the left side of the box is saved in the top right corner. Assisted by Ángel Di María with a cross.
Corner, Argentina. Cashed in by Salem Al Dawsari.
Corner, Argentina. Cashed in by Saud Abdulhamid.
Substitution, Saudi Arabia. Mohammed Al Burayk replaces Yasir Al Shahrani due to injury.
Offside Saudi Arabia. Salem Al Dawsari tries a through ball, but Mohammed Kanno is caught offside.
Corner, Saudi Arabia. Lost by Marcos Acuña.
Mohammed Al Owais (Saudi Arabia) is yellow carded.
Offside Argentina. Rodrigo De Paul tries a through ball, but Nicolás Otamendi is caught offside.
attempt failed. Nicolás Otamendi (Argentina) header from the center of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Marcos Acuña with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Argentina. Cashed in by Hassan Tambakti.
Ángel Di María (Argentina) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Haitham Asiri (Saudi Arabia).
Angel Di María (Argentina) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Yasir Al Shahrani (Saudi Arabia).
Substitution, Saudi Arabia. Haitham Asiri replaces Feras Al Brikan.
Substitution, Saudi Arabia. Abdulelah Al Amri replaces Nawaf Al Abid.
Nawaf Al Abid (Saudi Arabia) is shown a yellow card.
attempt saved. Lionel Messi (Argentina) header from the center of the box is saved in the center of the goal. Assisted by Ángel Di María with a cross.