Saudi Arabia spoil Messi’s milestone with upset 2-1 win over Argentina
LUSAIL CITY, Qatar – In one of the biggest upsets in the World Cup, Saudi Arabia stunned tournament favourites Argentina 2-1 at the Lusail Stadium in their opening Group C game on Tuesday.
After poor showings by two other Asian teams in earlier games – hosts Qatar lost 2-0 to Ecuador before Iran were thrashed 6-2 by England – few gave the Saudis a chance against their opponents, led by the most talented player of his generation Lionel Messi.
But two goals in five second-half minutes helped the Saudis post a famous win that will sit alongside South Korea’s 2-1 extra-time upset of Italy in 2002 as the continent’s most memorable results at the showpiece tournament.
Much of the pre-game talk was not whether Argentina would win but by how many.
After all, the match pitted the world’s No. 3 team, tipped by many to lift their third World Cup come Dec 18, on one side and world No. 51 Saudis, who are the tournament’s second-lowest ranked side, on the other.
Argentina comprised of players plying their trade in Europe’s top clubs while the Middle Eastern side featured only players from the local Saudi league.
The match appeared to be following the script early on.
The ball broke to Messi inside the box with barely two mintues on the clock, but his low shot was well-parried by Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais.
Messi found the back of the net eight minutes later when he coolly rolled home a penalty after the video assistant referee (VAR) had spotted an infringement at a corner kick. He marked a milestone by becoming only the fifth player to score in four different editions of the World Cup. He also became only the fourth player to feature at five World Cups.
But the Qatar World Cup can arguably be considered a “home” tournament for the neighbouring Saudis, and this was evident by the number of green shirts among the 88,012 in the stands.
Their supporters were defiant in the face of the odds, even jeering Messi every time his image came up on one of the stadium’s four big screens. Their team’s performance reflected their fight.
They were aggressive in their press high up the pitch, while also keeping a disciplined line – they caught Argentina offside seven times in the first half, which resulted in goals for Messi and Lautaro Martinez being chalked off. But they hardly troubled Emiliano Martinez in La Albiceleste’s goal.
That changed after the break, however.
In the 48th minute, Saleh Al-Sehri raced past Nicolas Otamendi and fired a shot that squeezed beyond Martinez’s reach to send the Saudi supporters wild.
Five minutes later, they erupted even louder when Salem Al-Dawsari arrowed a shot into the top corner to set the team on their way toward an improbable result.
The Argentinians poured forward to avoid embarrassment, but Al-Owais denied Nicolas Tagliafico with an incredible point-blank save, and his defence were equally resilient to repel attack after attack thrown at them, as the Saudis clung on for the famous win.