Saudi Arabia surprises Argentina in the World Cup | CBC Sports

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Lionel Messi stood hands on hips near center circle, stone-faced as jubilant Saudi Arabian players ran in all directions around him after scoring one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. against Argentina.

The South American champion and one of the tournament favorites fell to Saudi Arabia 2-1 on Tuesday, making a disappointing start to Messi’s quest to win the only major title that has eluded him.

The return of Saudi Arabia joins the list of other big World Cup surprises: Cameroon’s 1-0 victory over an Argentina team led by Diego Maradona in the opening match of the 1990 World Cup, the Senegal’s 1-0 victory over champions France 1-0 in the 2002 tournament opener or the United States defeating England by the same score in 1950.

“We know that the World Cup is like that,” Argentine coach Lionel Scaloni said. “Sometimes you can crush opponents, and within a couple of plays, you’re losing.”

That summed up the pattern of a match that began with Messi giving Argentina the lead, calmly converting a 10th-minute penalty for his 92nd international goal. It had all the makings of a routine win for the defending Copa América champions, who were riding a 36-game unbeaten streak, one shy of the record in international soccer.

It didn’t turn out that way.

historical result

Goals from Saleh Alshehri and Salem Aldawsari within five minutes early in the second half gave the Saudis a historic result in the first World Cup hosted in the Middle East. The Saudis’ previous biggest victory was a 1-0 victory over Belgium in the 1994 World Cup, secured by a historic individual goal from Saeed Al-Owairan.

“All the stars aligned for us,” Saudi Arabia coach Herve Renard said. “We made history for Saudi football.”

Salem Al-Dawsari of Saudi Arabia, front, celebrates after scoring his team’s second goal against Argentina. (Ricardo Mazalan/The Associated Press)

Messi, 35, playing in his fifth, and likely last, World Cup with Argentina, scratched the side of his head and shook hands with a member of the Saudi coaching staff after the final whistle.

He walked into the tunnel with a group of other Argentina players and looked dejected, a scene all too familiar for one of the greatest players of all time who has yet to win soccer’s top prize.

“We are facing two finals now,” Argentine forward Lautaro Martinez said, looking ahead to the remaining group games against Mexico and Poland. “We screwed it up in the second half.”

The improbable victory for an all-Saudi team was sealed by a somersault from Aldawsari, who brought down a high ball just inside the penalty area, past Nahuel Molina with the help of a rebound and dribbled past Leandro. Paredes and drove a powerful shot into the far corner in the 53rd.

Disbelief in the stands

A stunned Messi watched as green-clad Saudi Arabian fans, who had crossed the Qatari border by the thousands, celebrated in disbelief in the stands. Saudi Arabian substitutes crowded the pitch to congratulate Aldawsari, who fell to his knees after his post-goal acrobatics.

“It’s one for the history books,” Renard said.

Such was Argentina’s early dominance that Saudi Arabia had no shots on target in the first half, during which the Alibiceleste had three goals disallowed for offside by repeatedly getting behind the Saudis’ tall defensive line.

“Some of those decisions were by inches,” Scaloni said, “but that’s technology for you.”

This group has always stood out for its uniformity, its strength, and it is time to be more united than ever.— Argentina’s Lionel Messi on Tuesday’s upset loss to Saudi Arabia

The equalizer in the 48th minute came with Saudi Arabia’s first attempt on goal, with Alshehri finding the far corner with an angled shot through defender Cristian Romero’s legs and past goalkeeper Emi Martinez’s shot.

Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais made two diving saves during 14 minutes of stoppage time to preserve a group-shaking victory.

“This group always stood out for its uniformity, its strength and it’s time to be more united than ever,” Messi said. “We have to go back to our training base and try to win the next game.”

Argentina had not previously lost a World Cup match when leading at half time since 1930, when the team conceded three second-half goals to lose to Uruguay 4–2.

Saudi Arabia bolstered their chances of reaching the World Cup knockout phase for the first time since 1994. “There will only be 20 minutes of celebration for us,” Renard said. “We still have two games, or more.”

Argentina plays Mexico in their second Group C match on Saturday, while Saudi Arabia faces Poland on the same day.

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