Saudi Arabia pulled off one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history on Tuesday, beating Lionel Messi’s Argentina 2-1 in a surprise Group C match.
Many had expected the South American team, ranked third in the world, unbeaten for three years and one of the favorites to win the tournament, to dethrone their opponent, ranked 48 below them in the world rankings.
All the talk before the match focused on Messi, one of the greatest players of all time, in what is likely to be his last World Cup. The Argentine captain scored an early penalty to give his side the lead, but two second-half goals from Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al Dawsari turned the game around.
The thousands of Saudi fans inside Lusail Stadium could not believe they were celebrating their unexpected victory.
Such a comeback seemed remotely unlikely for the match. Argentina controlled the game after taking the lead, but everything Saudi manager Hervé Renard said at halftime worked. His team came out with newfound confidence and was on par with a world-class team from Argentina.
Al Dawsari’s incredible winner from a distance – and the acrobatic celebration afterward – will become one of the moments of this or any World Cup and will undoubtedly, in time, become an ‘I-was-there’ moment for fans.
Close to full-time, fans applauded every tackle and saved as if they were goals, and when the match ended, Saudi Arabian fans reacted with frenzy.
Both sets of players dropped to their knees in disbelief and exhaustion. Messi, who had come to watch so many games, looked distraught as he ironically joined the Saudi fans in cheering his name.
According to sports data group Gracenote, a Nielsen company, Tuesday’s result was the biggest upset in the competition’s history.
“According to Gracenote, the most surprising World Cup win ever was the USA’s win over England in 1950, which had a 9.5% win chance for the US team, but Saudi Arabia’s win chance today was 8.7%, so its number one.” Is.” said in a statement.
As historic a victory as it was for Saudi Arabia, it was a humiliating defeat for Argentina, who took a knee on the biggest stage.
The Saudi players smiled and laughed with reporters as they left the stadium, unlike the Argentina squad, who walked on the team bus with their heads down. Messi was one of the few who stopped to talk to reporters and even posed for photographs.
Dancers light up the grounds during the opening ceremony.
A view from inside the Al Bayt Stadium during the opening ceremony.
There was even more good news for Saudi fans who believe in a touch of luck.
The last three teams to beat Argentina at the World Cup were either Germany and France winning the competition in 2014 and 2018, respectively – or reaching the final – Croatia 2018.
“I feel very proud of my team. It was one of the craziest games I have seen in my entire life,” fan Yezid Aldakheel told CNN. “Beating Argentina, one of the world’s best teams, is like a dream.
“It’s nice to play in the World Cup; to beat Argentina is something else; it’s a different world.”
Argentina will hope to recover in their next group match against Mexico on Saturday, while Saudi Arabia faces Poland.