Argentina, one of the favourites to lift the trophy, dominated the first half and went ahead through Lionel Messi's first-half penalty. But a stunning fight back from Saudi Arabia after the break saw Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari both score in the space of five minutes to leave Argentina defeated for the first time since June 2019 -- a run of 36 incredible matches.
1. Saudi Arabia cause one of the biggest shocks ever
Argentina don't start World Cups well, but this was a stunning upset even for them. Saudi Arabia, ranked 51st in the world (between Qatar and Greece), scored twice in five chaotic minutes early in the second half to record one of the competition's biggest-ever shocks -- similar to Cameroon beating Diego Maradona's reigning champions in 1990.
Saudi Arabia were barely in the game during a first 45 minutes dominated by Argentina and headed off the field at half-time looking like a team clinging on for dear life. But goals from Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari -- a right-foot effort that flew into the top corner and an early contender for goal of the tournament -- capped a remarkable turnaround.
And when the impetus was on Argentina and captain Lionel Messi to find a comeback, they lacked composure and precision in front of goal.
Argentina will cling to the fact that after losing to Cameroon in their opening game of the 1990 World Cup they still managed to reach the final. But after arriving in Qatar as reigning South American champions and on the back of a 36-match unbeaten run, this campaign was meant to be different. Just as they did at Russia 2018, it looks as if they are again going to make hard work of the group stage.
2. Argentina only have themselves to blame
Lionel Scaloni's side should have been out of sight at half-time but somehow found themselves behind early in the second half. They only had themselves to blame; with a bit more care, they could have been 5-0 up at the break.
Saudi Arabia came into the World Cup with a reputation of finding goals hard to come by. Despite failing to register a single shot in the first half, they managed to beat Emi Martinez twice in five minutes in the second half.
What will worry Scaloni most is that Argentina had more than 30 minutes after going behind to force a draw or even win the game, but they quickly resorted to pumping crosses into the box that the Saudi defence mopped up with ease. With games against Poland and Mexico to come, Argentina will still believe they can qualify for the knockout rounds, but it was not the start they were expecting.
3. Saudi Arabia back up fans' confidence
Saudi Arabia supporters have crossed the border into Qatar in the thousands and arrived genuinely hopeful of matching their performance at the 1994 World Cup in the United States, when they reached the round of 16.
Perhaps before the tournament kicked off, they were the only ones who believed it, but not anymore. Most of the supporters who travelled to the Lusail Stadium early on Tuesday morning admitted they were not expecting much from the game vs. Argentina and thought they would likely have to pick up points against Poland and Mexico to progress from Group C. Instead, they dealt a huge win for football in Asia -- especially after both Qatar and Iran opened their campaigns with abject performances against Ecuador and England, respectively.
It was only after half-time that they began to defend like a team that kept six clean sheets in qualifying. Their last World Cup began with a 5-0 thumping by hosts Russia, but what a difference four years can make: a day that will go down in both the history of Saudi Arabian football and the World Cup itself.
Argentina: E. Martinez 6, Molina 5, Tagliafico 5, Romero 4, Otamendi 5, Parades 6, De Paul 6, Gomez 5, Di Maria 6, Messi 6, La. Martinez 6.
Subs: Li. Martinez 6, Fernandez 6, Alvarez 6, Acuna 6.
Saudi Arabia: Al-Owais 9, Al-Bulayhi 8, Abdulhamid 7, Al-Shahrani 7, Al-Tambakti 8, Al-Malki 7 Al-Dawsari 8, Al-Shehri 8, Kanno 7, Al-Faraj 7, Al-Brikan 6.
Subs: Al-Abid 6, Al-Ghannam 6, Al-Burayk 6, Asiri 6, Al Amri 6.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Mohammed Al-Owais
The Saudi goalkeeper made two fantastic saves, one to deny Messi after 90 seconds and another in the second half when the ball rebounded off Nicolas Tagliafico.
WORST: Cristian Romero
The defender wobbled when Saudi Arabia put Argentina under pressure after half-time and was substituted after the second goal.
Highlights and notable moments
Lionel Messi opened the scoring from the penalty spot.
MESSI SCORES HIS FIRST GOAL OF THE 2022 FIFA WORLD CUP 🎯 pic.twitter.com/Aew5QiCJTr— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 22, 2022
But Saudi Arabia hit back and then hit this goal to take the lead.
WHAT. A. STRIKE. ⚽️💥— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 22, 2022
Beautiful goal by Salem Aldawsari 🇸🇦 pic.twitter.com/WCvSVHSyTR
After the match: What the players and managers said
Argentina's Lionel Messi: "It is a very hard blow for everyone; we did not expect to start this way. Things happen for a reason. We have to prepare for what is coming; we have to win, and it depends on us.
"There are no excuses. We are going to be more united than ever. This group is strong, and we have shown it. It is a situation that we haven't gone through in a long time. Now we have to show that this is a real group.
"My message to the supporters is to have faith. We won't leave them stranded. We knew that Saudi Arabia is a team with good players, that they move the ball well and that they push the [defensive] line a lot. We worked on it, but we rushed a bit. We have to go back to the base of who we are. We have to think about what's next."
Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni: "They scored two goals in their only two shots on goal. We have to get up. It's a sad day today, but we need to have our heads up and continue. We are hurt, but we need to turn things around and win our next games. We continue to believe the same as we did before. The World Cup has this: you can be infinitely superior, and things don't go your way. It's never good to lose. We came into the World Cup in the best possible way, on a good run. We knew that it would eventually end. Fortunately, we have two [more] group games, and we are going to get it done."
Saudi Arabia coach Herve Renard: "All the stars in the sky were aligned for us, but don't forget Argentina are still a fantastic team. This is football, sometimes totally crazy things can happen...
"Sometimes the opposition does not have the best motivation. It's normal; it also happened to us when playing lower teams. Some people don't understand, but you can imagine that when you're playing against Saudi Arabia, the motivation is not the same as playing against Brazil."
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
- Messi became the fifth player in history to score at four FIFA World Cups. He scored 16 years after his first World Cup goal (vs. Serbia in June 2006), which is the longest gap between goals by the same player in World Cup history.
- Argentina were flagged for as many offsides (7) in the first half against Saudi Arabia as in their entire previous two World Cup group stages combined (5 in 2018, 2 in 2014).
- Saudi Arabia are the second Asian nation to score vs. Argentina in a World Cup. The other is South Korea (scored in 1986 and 2010).
- Saudi Arabia scored multiple goals in a match for the first time since October 2021 (W 3-2 vs China.)
- Argentina entered on a 36-game unbeaten streak (started in July 2019), one shy of tying the longest in men's national team history (2018-21 Italy.)
- According to Caesars' official Twitter account, Saudi Arabia was 25-1 to defeat Argentina. Argentina moved from +550 before the tournament to +700 to win the World Cup as a result of the upset.
Argentina: Lionel Scaloni's men will take on Mexico at the same stadium on Saturday in a match which will prove crucial to their hopes of qualifying. They wrap up the group stage against Poland on Nov. 30 at Stadium 974 in Doha.
Saudi Arabia: Next up for Saudi Arabia comes Robert Lewandowski's Poland at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan on Saturday, with their final group game against Mexico on Nov. 30 in this stadium.