Saudi Arabia pulled off one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history on Tuesday, defeating Lionel Messi’s Argentina 2-1 in Group C.
Many had anticipated that the South American team, ranked third in the world, unbeaten for three years, and one of the tournament’s favorites, would easily defeat its opponent, ranked 48 places below it in the world rankings.
Messi, one of the greatest players of all time, is participating in what will likely be his final World Cup match. The Argentina captain scored an early penalty kick to give his team the lead, but Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al Dawsari scored twice in the second half to turn the game on its head.
The tens of thousands of Saudi fans inside Lusail Stadium could not believe what they were witnessing as their team celebrated an unexpected victory.
Throughout the majority of the match, such a comeback did not seem remotely possible. After taking the lead, Argentina dominated the game, but whatever Saudi coach Hervé Renard said at halftime was effective. His team came out with a renewed sense of confidence and matched Argentina’s world-class team head-to-head.
Al Dawsari’s incredible long-range winner – and subsequent acrobatic celebration – will become one of the most memorable moments of this or any World Cup, and will undoubtedly be remembered by fans as a “I was there” moment.
As the match neared its conclusion, fans cheered every tackle and save as if they were goals, and when the game ended, Saudi Arabian fans reacted with euphoria.
The players from both teams fell to their knees in disbelief and exhaustion. Messi, whom so many had traveled to see play, appeared despondent as he walked away with Saudi fans ironically chanting his name.
According to Nielsen-owned sports data company Gracenote, Tuesday’s result was the greatest upset in the competition’s history.
“According to Gracenote, the most unexpected World Cup victory ever was the United States’ victory over England in 1950, with a 9.5% chance of victory for the US team, but Saudi Arabia’s chance of victory today was estimated at 8.7%, so it now holds the top spot,” the company said in a statement.
This was a historic victory for Saudi Arabia, but a humiliating loss for Argentina, who gave up on the biggest stage.
In stark contrast to the Argentine squad, who walked with their heads bowed into the team bus, Saudi players laughed and smiled with reporters as they left the stadium. Messi was one of the few who spoke to journalists and posed for photographs.
There was additional good news for Saudi supporters who believe in fate.
The last three teams to defeat Argentina at the World Cup either went on to win the tournament (Germany in 2014 and France in 2018) or reached the final (Croatia in 2018).
“I am extremely proud of my team. Yazid Aldakheel, a fan, told CNN that this is one of the craziest games he’s ever witnessed. “Beating Argentina, one of the world’s best teams, feels like a dream.
“Playing in the World Cup is great, but defeating Argentina is a completely different world.”
On Saturday, Argentina will play Mexico in its next group match, while Saudi Arabia will face Poland.
Two scoreless contests
Christian Eriksen made his return to major international football in the second match of the day as Denmark opened its World Cup campaign with a 0-0 draw against Tunisia in Group D.
In June of last year, the Manchester United midfielder suffered a cardiac arrest and collapsed on the field during the European Championships, making his return to international football nothing short of miraculous.
With the support of tens of thousands of fans, Tunisia secured an impressive draw. In the second half, Denmark improved and had a goal disallowed for offside before substitute Andreas Cornelius was denied by the post.
In addition, a last-second penalty appeal by the Danes was denied.
Tuesday’s match was also scoreless, but it was not without drama.
Robert Lewandowski’s penalty kick was saved as Poland and Mexico played to a 0-0 draw.
The forward was brought down by Hector Moreno in the second half, but Guillermo Ochoa made an outstanding save on the penalty kick to deny him his first World Cup goal.
Giroud matches Henry’s mark
In the final match of the day at the Al Janoub Stadium, the defending champion France overcame a shaky start to defeat Australia 4-1.
Craig Goodwin’s shot into the top of the net gave Australia an unexpected lead, but it only served as a wake-up call for the French squad.
France began to purr when Adrien Rabiot and Olivier Giroud scored back-to-back goals in rapid succession.
Kylian Mbappe, who at times was unstoppable, added a third goal in the second half before assisting Olivier Giroud on his second of the evening.
The 23-year-old outran the Australian defense down the wing and set up his strike partner for the goal. Mbappé stood arms aloft in front of the French fans, recognizing the quality of that assist.
With 51 goals, Giroud is now tied with Thierry Henry as France’s all-time leading scorer.