A bold and brilliant Saudi Arabia pulled off one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history as they came from behind to stun two-time winners Argentina in a fantastic Group C opener in Lusail.
Ranked 51st in the world, Saudi Arabia could have been done and dusted in the first half as Lionel Messi opened the scoring from the penalty spot before Argentina had three goals ruled out for offside.
But the Green Falcons flipped the game on its head in a stunning 10-minute period after half-time, Saleh Al-Shehri levelling with a low effort and Salem Al Dawsari firing them ahead to spark pandemonium in the stands.
Having shown their ruthlessness at one end, they demonstrated a ruggedness at the other, holding a stellar Argentina front line at bay to secure only their fourth World Cup win and throw the group wide open.
Lionel Scaloni’s Argentina came into the tournament among the favourites, on the back of a 36-game unbeaten run that included winning the 2021 Copa America.
They now have it all to do to keep alive their hopes of a first global triumph since 1986 and give Messi a fitting ending to what is very likely his World Cup swansong.
They face Mexico on Saturday, while Saudi Arabia take on Poland.
One of the World Cup’s biggest shocks
Well, who saw this coming?
Argentina were among the elite teams heading to Qatar – tipped by many to go all the way, with a star-studded squad as robust at the back as they are ruthless in attack.
In 2018 in Russia they were chaos personified, chopping managers before the event and starting XIs during it before going out in the last 16.
But under Scaloni they got their act together in a serious way. They do not concede many and score lots – in five games before the World Cup they kept five clean sheets and netted 16 times – and had not tasted defeat since losing to Brazil in the final of the 2019 Copa America.
That run is now over and in spectacular, humbling fashion.
In contrast to their opponents, few saw Saudi Arabia making a dent at this tournament. Only Ghana of the 32 nations in attendance rank lower. They had three victories before this, but none of them bigger.
At full-time, in wild scenes, their players dropped to the turf, prayed, hugged and screamed into the sky as the bench charged on to the pitch to join them, weaving their way past disconsolate Argentina players.
Luck was ridden, especially during a first half when the writing was on the wall early through Messi’s penalty – awarded after Leandro Paredes was wrestled to the turf. Had Messi or Lautaro Martinez timed their attacking runs better it could have been 4-0 at the break.
Having remained competitive, Saudi Arabia seized their moment in spectacular fashion.
Al-Shehri found the bottom corner of Emi Martinez’s net, Salem Al Dawsari found the top – both ruthless finishes, each a hammer blow to Argentina that left them floored.
They came at Saudi Arabia and threatened in increasingly desperate search of a way back in, but on every occasion a man in green stretched out a limb to tackle or threw a body in to block.
Keeper Mohammed Al Owais plucked balls out of the air and dropped on shots aimed his way. When he was absent, Abdulelah Al Amri was there to head a goalbound effort off the line.
Eight minutes were added at the end and nearly 14 were played, most of them in the Saudi Arabia half and accompanied by screams of excitement and anguish from the crowd.
The final whistle confirmed the unbelievable and sent Herve Renard’s side into delirium. They are the first non-European team to beat Argentina at the World Cup since Cameroon in 1990.
If Argentina need something to cling to, it is that they reached the final following that opening defeat 42 years ago. If you are going to lose group games, it is often better to do so first up, giving yourself the games to recover.
They are, though, now arguably the victims of the biggest shock in World Cup history, up there with England’s loss to the United States in 1950 and West Germany losing to Algeria in 1982.
ResultYearChance of victory for winning teamSaudi Arabia 2-1 Argentina20228.7%USA 1-0 England19509.5%Switzerland 1-0 Spain201010.3%Algeria 2-1 West Germany198213.2%Ghana 2-0 Czech Republic200613.9%
As for Saudi Arabia, the last three teams to beat Argentina at the World Cup have gone on to win the competition (Germany in 2014, France in 2018) or reached the final (Croatia in 2018).
Few will be predicting that, but they now have a great chance to match their effort of 1994 by reaching the last 16.
Player of the match
Abdulelah Al AmriAbdulelah Al Amri
11Di María7De Paul5Paredes17Gómez Villaverde
23Martínez26Molina13RomeroSubstituted forMartínezat 59’minutes19Otamendi3TagliaficoSubstituted forAcuñaat 71’minutes11Di María7De Paul5ParedesSubstituted forFernándezat 59’minutes17Gómez VillaverdeSubstituted forÁlvarezat 59’minutes10Messi22MartínezSubstitutes1Armani2Foyth4Montiel6Pezzella8Acuña9Álvarez12Rulli14Palacios15Correa16Almada18Rodríguez20Mac Allister21Dybala24Fernández25Martínez
12Abdulhamid17Al Tambakti5Al Bulayhi13Al Mohammadi Al Shahrani
8Al Wahbi Al Malki
9Al Brikan7Al Faraj23Kanno10Al Dawsari
21Al OwaisBooked at 90mins12AbdulhamidBooked at 82mins17Al Tambakti5Al BulayhiBooked at 75mins13Al Mohammadi Al ShahraniSubstituted forAl Buraykat 90+9’minutes8Al Wahbi Al MalkiBooked at 67mins9Al BrikanSubstituted forAsiriat 89’minutes7Al FarajSubstituted forAl Abidat 45+4’minutesBooked at 88minsSubstituted forAl Amriat 88’minutes23Kanno10Al DawsariBooked at 79mins11Al ShehriSubstituted forAl Ghannamat 78’minutesSubstitutes1Al Rubaie Al Yami2Al Ghannam3Madu4Al Amri6Al Burayk14Otayf15Al Hassan16Al Naji18Al Abid19Bahbri20Al Obud22Al Suweiti Al Aqidi24Al Shardan Al Dawsari25Asiri
Match ends, Argentina 1, Saudi Arabia 2.
Second Half ends, Argentina 1, Saudi Arabia 2.
Attempt saved. Julián Álvarez (Argentina) header from the centre of the box is saved in the top centre of the goal. Assisted by Ángel Di María with a cross.
Corner, Argentina. Conceded by Salem Al Dawsari.
Corner, Argentina. Conceded by Saud Abdulhamid.
Substitution, Saudi Arabia. Mohammed Al Burayk replaces Yasir Al Shahrani because of an injury.
Offside, Saudi Arabia. Salem Al Dawsari tries a through ball, but Mohammed Kanno is caught offside.
Corner, Saudi Arabia. Conceded by Marcos Acuña.
Mohammed Al Owais (Saudi Arabia) is shown the yellow card.
Offside, Argentina. Rodrigo De Paul tries a through ball, but Nicolás Otamendi is caught offside.
Attempt missed. Nicolás Otamendi (Argentina) header from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Marcos Acuña with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Argentina. Conceded by Hassan Tambakti.
Ángel Di María (Argentina) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Haitham Asiri (Saudi Arabia).
Ángel 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 the yellow card.
Attempt saved. Lionel Messi (Argentina) header from the left side of the six yard box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Ángel Di María with a cross.
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