Saudi Arabia vs Argentina: Lionel Messi’s workforce in one of many largest upsets in World Cup historical past
Saudi Arabia pulled off one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history on Tuesday when they defeated Lionel Messi’s Argentina 2-1 in an amazing Group C game.
Many had expected that the South American world number three, undefeated for three years and the favorite to win the tournament, would sweep away his opponent who is 48 places below in the world rankings.
All pre-game talks focused on Messi, one of the greatest players of all time, playing in what will probably be his last World Cup. The Argentina captain scored an early penalty to put his side ahead but two goals from Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al Dawsari in the second half turned the game upside down.
The thousands of Saudi fans at Lusail Stadium couldn’t believe what they saw as they celebrated their unexpected win.
Such a comeback hadn’t looked remotely possible for much of the game. Argentina controlled the game after taking the lead, but whatever Saudi manager Hervé Renard said at half-time, it worked. His team emerged with a newfound faith, going neck and neck with Argentina’s world-class team.
Al Dawsari’s incredible long-range winner – and the acrobatic celebration that followed – will be one of the moments of this or any World Cup and will no doubt become an “I was there” moment for the fans over time.
As the final score drew near, fans cheered every tackle and save as if they were goals, and when the game was actually over, Saudi Arabian fans reacted with frenzy.
Both groups of players fell to their knees in disbelief and exhaustion. Messi, whom so many had come to play, looked distraught as he walked away with Saudi fans cheering his name ironically.
According to sports data group Gracenote, which is a Nielsen company, Tuesday’s result was the biggest surprise in the history of the competition.
“The most surprising World Cup victory ever, according to Gracenote, was the USA’s victory over England in 1950 with a 9.5% chance of victory for the US team, but Saudi Arabia’s chance of victory was today estimated at 8.7% and takes over number one,” it said in a statement.
As much as this was a historic victory for Saudi Arabia, it was a humiliating defeat for Argentina, who capitulated on the grandest stage.
Saudi players smiled and laughed with reporters as they exited the stadium, a stark contrast to the Argentina side, who boarded the team bus with their heads bowed. Messi was one of the few to stop and speak to journalists, even stopping for photos.
There was also more good news for Saudi fans who believe in a touch of destiny.
The last three teams to beat Argentina at a World Cup either won the competition – Germany and France 2014 and 2018 respectively – or reached the final – Croatia 2018.
“I am very proud of my team. This is one of the craziest games I’ve seen in my entire life,” fan Yazid Aldakheel told CNN. “It’s like a dream to beat Argentina, one of the best teams in the world.
“Playing in the World Cup is good, beating Argentina is different, it’s a different world.”
Argentina hope to bounce back against Mexico in Saturday’s next group game, while Saudi Arabia meet Poland.