One of world soccer’s legendary teams, featuring arguably the greatest player in the history of the sport and a host of millionaire stars, has been humiliated by the most unlikely of opponents.
Argentina, ranked third in the world according to FIFA, lost 2-1 to 51st-ranked team Saudi Arabia in a thrilling game on Tuesday at the World Cup in Qatar.
Lionel Messi, the record talisman responsible for such glories at Barcelona and now at Paris Saint Germain, voted the best player in the world seven times, put Argentina ahead from the penalty spot after 10 minutes.
But in a 10-minute period after halftime, goals from Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari canceled out Argentina’s lead, and the Saudis were able to hold on to confirm one of the biggest World Cup upsets since the start of the game. tournament in 1930.
It was Argentina’s first loss in 36 games: the last team to beat them was Brazil, another soccer heavyweight, in 2019. At this World Cup, only Ghana was below Saudi Arabia in the standings.
The significance of the result, in the first World Cup to be organized in an Arab country, will be felt throughout the region despite the many controversies that the tournament has generated. Thousands of Saudi fans were seen on social media dancing, beating drums and singing after the game in the Doha sun.
The last goal was particularly skillful. After deftly handling a loose ball, Al-Dawsari, with his back to goal, spun inside to baffle two Argentinian defenders before eluding a third and rocketing into the far corner, sending the army of Saudi fans flying green dresses. celebration.
The South Americans were not only beaten, but vastly outclassed by a team known as the Green Falcons, few of whom are known outside their homeland except among soccer’s most committed supporters.
Goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais dominated in the air and looked safe, while defender Abdulelah Al-Amri was on the goal line to head in an assured goal.
For Messi, one of the most recognizable faces in the world of sport who will surely play in his last World Cup, the loss raises the possibility that he will end his career without winning the prestigious tournament, one of the few achievements he has yet to achieve. to conquer.
He is now the fifth player to score in four World Cups, joining Brazilian legend Pele and Cristiano Ronaldo. But that may be little consolation if his team can’t advance from the first round.
For Argentina, the loss brought back memories of their 1-0 loss to a spirited Cameroon side at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, then coached by another storied megastar, Diego Maradona.
The result also had echoes of Senegal beating France, then defending world champions, 1-0, in the 2002 World Cup.
But given Saudi Arabia’s victory against such a daunting foe and the wide gap in profile and position between the two, this may be the biggest World Cup upset yet.