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Ikoli Victor

Doha

In one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history, Saudi Arabia defeated tournament favourites Argentina 2-1 on Tuesday at the magnificent Lusail Stadium in front of 88,012 fans in their Group C match.

The victory gave the Saudis three points, leaving the South American champions in a difficult situation as they face Mexico next and then Poland.

Argentina came into the game fresh off a 5-0 thrashing of the UAE to extend their unbeaten streak, but the Saudis had other plans, planning a heroic performance to win the hearts of neutrals.

Lionel Messi, in his final World Cup, had the first chance, but his curling effort from 12 yards was saved by goalkeeper Mohamed Alowais.

Argentina's early dominance paid off when they won a penalty in the eighth minute after Al Bulayahi fouled Paredes in the box. The referee double-checked his decision with the VAR monitor before Messi scored from the penalty spot to give Argentina the lead in the tenth minute.

Saudi Arabia responded well to the goal conceded by contesting every ball in the midfield and throwing men forward, but the final pass into the opponents’ vital area remained elusive.

Messi then scored with a cool finish, but the goal was ruled out for offside after the linesman raised his flag.

In the 28th minute, VAR ruled Lautaro Martinez's goal offside after he made his run slightly too early. The Saudis rode their luck with Martinez's effort was cancelled for offside for the second time.

Argentina was called offside seven times in the first half as Saudi Arabia maintained a very high line. Although it worked well for them, they were cautious.

Three minutes into the second half, Firas Al Brikan released Saleh Al Sheri, who got the better of Romero in the box before firing the ball across Martinez and into the bottom right corner to make it one apiece.

The goal nearly brought down the stadium's foundation due to the raucous Saudi fans' joy and excitement. They didn't stop signing and cheering for their team.

The Saudis gained confidence at this point, and a moment of magic brought untold joy when striker Salem Al Dawsari scored a stunning goal with a curling effort that sailed into the Argentine net after turning his marker inside out to give the Saudis a 2-1 lead.

Argentina upped the tempo and pressed for an equaliser, which they almost got thanks to Martinez's effort, but the Saudi goalkeeper made a point-blank save. Following Di Maria's cross, Messi's header went straight into the hands of the well-positioned goalkeeper Alowais in the 84th minute, keeping the Saudis ahead.

Slovenian referee Vincic Slavko added eight minutes of extra time as the Argentines pushed for an equaliser but the Saudis held firm. There were pauses after Saudi player Abdulla Madu was stretchered off with a concussion.

There was still time for the Saudi goalkeeper to make another save and claim man of the match honours.

Harve Renard, the 56-year-old Frenchman and coach of Saudi Arabia, must be credited for his masterful tactics in achieving this result.

Argentina had 70% possession to Saudi Arabia's 30%, with six yellow cards shown, including the impressive Alowais. Argentina had seven corner kicks to one for their opponent, and the Saudis committed 21 fouls in the game. The Messi-led team had four shots on goal, while the Saudis converted their two chances to earn a memorable victory over the two-time world champions.

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22/11/2022
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