Saudi Arabia crashes Messi's party
One of the biggest upsets in World Cup history occurred when Saudi Arabia stunned Argentina 2-1 in the group's opening game, snapping the Albiceleste's 36-match winning streak.
Since Hervé Renard became coach of Saudi Arabia in 2019, the team has been strong defensively, therefore the Frenchman would have been frustrated that his team's lone goal in the first half was the result of a lack of discipline. Leandro Paredes fell to the ground after trying to win a header from a corner with just seven minutes remaining. A VAR check revealed Saud Abdulhamid had wrestled him to the ground.
The marauding forwards of Argentina and Saudi Arabia's high defensive line locked in a tactical duel for the remainder of the first half. Three more goals would be scored by the Albiceleste, but each time they would fall victim to the Falcons' offside trap. Messi was its first victim, and Lautaro Martinez twice had to have his celebrations stopped by a VAR check.
After a quick-fire double from their confident squad, who took the field after the break, the raucous Saudi crowd, which had made the short travel over the border, was sent to dreamland. Saleh Al Shehri scored a wonderful wide-angle finish to equalize at the 48-minute mark, and four minutes later the Green Falcons were in breathtaking flight. Salem Al Dawsari received a fortunate bounce on the ball and unleashed a powerful curling effort past Emiliano Martinez.
Although there was still time for an Argentine resurgence, Lionel Scaloni's team struggled to find an equalizer and were frustrated by goalkeeper Mohammed Al Owais and spectacular tackles that were applauded by both players and spectators. Ultimately, Argentina was unable to redeem themselves, and Saudi Arabia can now dream of going past a World Cup group stage for the first time since 1994. Not even eight minutes of extra time could save them.
Tough one for Messi and Argentina to take. This is the beauty of the World Cup no one knows.