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Saudi Arabia surprises Messi and Argentina in the World Cup

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Lionel Messi, standing on his hip near the center circle, made a stone face as jubilant Saudi players ran in all directions around him after scoring one of the World Cup’s biggest upsets against Argentina.

The South American champion and one of the favorites for the tournament lost 2-1 to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, in a slow start to Messi’s quest to win the only major title that eluded him.

The return of Saudi Arabia is added to the list of other major surprises in the World Cup: Cameroon’s 1-0 victory over Argentina’s Diego Maradona in the opening match of the 1990 World Cup, and Senegal’s 1-0 victory over defending champion France 1-0. In 2002. The opening game of the tournament as the USA beat England by the same score in 1950.

“We know the World Cup is like this,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said. “Sometimes you can defeat your opponents and some matches you lose.”

It epitomizes the pattern of a match that began with Messi giving Argentina the lead, calmly converting a penalty in the 10th minute to set up his 92nd international goal. A run of 36 matches without defeat, one short of a record in international football.

It didn’t happen that way.

Historical result

Goals from Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dosari within five minutes at the start of the second half gave the Saudis a historic lead in the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East. The biggest victory for the Saudis was against Belgium 1-0 in the 1994 World Cup, with an individual goal from Saeed Al-Owairan.

Saudi coach Hervé Renard said: “All the stars lined up with us.” “We have marked the history of Saudi football.”

Saudi national team player Salem Al-Dosari celebrated taking the lead after scoring his team’s second goal against Argentina. (Ricardo Mazlan/The Associated Press)

Messi, 35, who is likely to play his fifth World Cup against Argentina, scratched the side of his head and shook hands with a member of the Saudi coaching staff after the final whistle.

He entered the tunnel with a group of other Argentine players looking nervous, an all too familiar sight for one of the greatest players ever to win football’s ultimate prize.

“We are facing two finals now,” said Argentine striker Lautaro Martinez. “We made a mistake in the second half.”

The unexpected victory for a team made up entirely of Saudi players was sealed with a somersault from Al-Dosari, who dropped a ball high just inside the penalty area, forced his way past Nahuel Molina using a rebound, which he dribbled past Leandro. Paredes fired a powerful shot into the far corner in the 53rd minute.

Disbelief in situations

A stunned Messi watched the green-clad Saudi fans, who had come in their thousands from across the Qatari border, celebrate in disbelief in the stands. The Saudi substitutes rushed onto the pitch to congratulate Al-Dosari, who fell to his knees after his acrobatic movements after scoring the goal.

“It’s one of the history books,” said Renard.

Such was the initial dominance of Argentina that Saudi Arabia failed to strike in the first half as three Alibiceleste goals were ruled out for offside as they often stood behind the high Saudi defense line.

“Some of these resolutions are in inches, but this is the technology for you,” Scaloni said.

This group has always been equal and strong and it is time for us to be more united than ever.– Argentine Lionel Messi, on Tuesday, a surprising loss against Saudi Arabia

The equalizing goal came in the 48th minute from Saudi Arabia’s first attempt, as Al-Shehri hit the far corner with an oblique shot that went through the legs of defender Christian Romero and past the collision of goalkeeper Amy Martinez.

Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Al Owais made two diving saves within 14 minutes of stoppage time to preserve the group-shaking victory.

“This group has always been distinguished by its equality and strength, and the time has come for it to be more united than ever,” said Messi. “We have to go back to our training base and try to win the next match.”

Never before has Argentina lost a World Cup match while leading at half time since 1930, when the team conceded three goals in the second half only to lose to Uruguay 4-2.

Saudi Arabia boosted their chances of reaching the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time since 1994. “We’ll only have 20 minutes to celebrate,” Renard said. “We still have two games or more to go.”

Argentina will meet Mexico in its second match in Group C on Saturday, while Saudi Arabia will face Poland on the same day.

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