Saudi Arabia stun Argentina in huge upset as France make short work of Australia
Saudi Arabia provided the first big upset of the 2022 Qatar World Cup on Tuesday, shocking perennial favorites Argentina with a 2-1 win at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar.
Argentina, who arrived at the World Cup undefeated in 36 matches, took an early lead 10 minutes into the game when talismanic star Lionel Messi scored a penalty.
The quick 1-0 lead came as little surprise: This was, after all, the world No. 3 team facing the No. 51, a foregone conclusion and an unremarkable chapter in Argentina’s rapid journey to at least the semifinals.
But Saudi Arabia were not following the same playbook. The Green Falcons refused to back down, holding off every Argentinian attempt with some phenomenal defense before finally, minutes into the second half, breaking through on their own.
Saleh al-Shehri canceled out the Argentinian lead in the 48th minute, five minutes before Salem al-Dawsari fired in an incredible goal to deliver the single greatest moment in Saudi Arabia’s football history.
What followed was nearly an hour of brutal defense from a Saudi side that absolutely refused to give up their historic lead. While French manager Hervé Renard managed to look calm and collected on the touchline, the atmosphere on the pitch, in the stands and in front of televisions around the world was one of frantic anticipation as Saudi Arabia slowly wound down the clock, holding off attack after attack until the final whistle blew and the stadium erupted in cheers.
Looking back on the match it will be easy to argue that Argentina got unlucky, to blame VAR calls and offside decisions. But that simply was not the case. Saudi Arabia arrived with an aggressive game plan and they knew exactly what they were doing. They took the game to Argentina with a far more offensive approach than anybody expected and they outclassed their opponent.
Simply put, on the night, the best team won.
Whether Saudi Arabia will be able to keep up that momentum as they move on to face Group C opponents Poland and Mexico, who drew 0-0 on Tuesday, remains to be seen. The Green Falcons paid a heavy price for their victory against Argentina, with captain Salman al-Faraj on crutches by the end of the game and defender Yasser Alshahrani stretchered off with a broken jaw after taking his own goalkeeper’s knee to the face during injury time.
But whatever happens over the next two weeks, Saudi Arabia have already pulled off one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. The world No. 51s are the first non-European team to beat Argentina at the World Cup since 1990, the first Asian team ever to beat Argentina at the World Cup and the first team to come from behind in the second half to beat Argentina at the tournament since 1930.
Speaking after the game, midfielder Abdulelah al-Malki pointed out that very few journalists had bothered to turn up for the team’s pre-match press conference, and those that did had not seemed to take the team seriously.
“I enjoyed embarrassing some of those journalists, especially those at the press conferences,” al-Malki said. “They weren’t very respectful to us but we gave them a response.”
Just hours after Saudi Arabia shocked Argentina, reigning World Cup champions France looked like they might be about to get the same treatment.
Craig Goodwin, a 30-year-old Adelaide United winger picking up only his 11th international cap, pinged in a low cross from the far post to give world No. 38 Australia a 1-0 lead over No. 4 France. That, of course, is not the end of the story, but for 18 minutes Australia got to believe that they might be about to pull off a Saudi Arabia.
Unfortunately for the Socceroos, the Blues were not going to take this one lying down.
France’s response was fast and deadly, with goals pouring in from Adrien Rabiot in the 27th minute, Oliver Giroud in the 32nd, Kylian Mbappe in the 68th and Giroud again in the 71st.
With the 4-1 win — an emphatic victory, but one that could have been far worse if it wasn’t for some stout defending from Australia — France may just have broken the World Cup winners’ curse, becoming the first reigning champion to win their opening game since 2006.
The win allowed France to take the top spot in Group D, with Tunisia and Denmark drawing 0-0 to round off the day’s action. After three days of football, the Netherlands, England, Saudi Arabia and France all top their groups, with Qatar, Iran, Australia and, of course, Argentina trailing in last place.
Off the pitch the drama also continued on Tuesday, as the German football federation announced that it would take legal action against FIFA for banning the OneLove armband.
The armband, worn by European football captains to promote equality, was banned by FIFA on Monday under the justification that it is a political statement and unsanctioned by FIFA. The decision to label it as political, one not taken by the football associations of the involved countries or UEFA, has been interpreted as FIFA bowing to pressure from the Qatari organizers.
The crackdown on anything that could be interpreted as political continued on Tuesday, when a Brazilian journalist said he was stopped by local police for carrying the flag of Brazilian state Pernambuco, which happens to include a rainbow and was misinterpreted as an LGBTQ flag.
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and punishable with a prison sentence.
The World Cup continues on Wednesday with some Group E and F action. Morocco and Croatia will kick things off at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, with Germany taking on Japan later in the afternoon. The evening games will see Spain face Costa Rica and Belgium take on Canada.
BY JIM BULLEY [firstname.lastname@example.org]