Saudi Arabia kicked off Group C action at the 2022 FIFA World Cup with a 2-1 comeback win against two-time champions Argentina. The result brought to an end Argentina’s 36 match unbeaten streak since losing the 2019 Copa America semifinal to Brazil.
Argentina took a first half lead via Lionel Messi, who earlier became the first player to feature in five world cups for the Albicelestes, in the 10th minute after a VAR awarded penalty. The 1978 and 1986 champions hit the ball in the goal three more times in the first half but were ruled offside, twice for a Lautaro Martinez goal and for another Messi left footed strike as Argentina went into the halftime with their one goal lead intact.
Saudi Arabia, the second-lowest ranked team in the tournament after Ghana, charged at Argentina’s defence early in the second half in front of a frenzied 88,012 crowd as Saleh Al-Shehri, who was just too quick for Romero, squeezed in a low shot to equalise in the 48th minute off what was Saudi Arabia’s first shot on target.
Five minutes later, Salem Al-Dawsari plucked the ball out of the sky near the left corner of the box, twisting and turning, before bending a shot into the far top corner curler from the edge of the box to complete the Asian side’s comeback.
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Despite plenty of possession in the later stages of the game, Argentina were unable to penetrate Saudi Arabia, who were competing in their sixth World Cup but had never previously won an opening game.
The loss for the Lionel Messi led side meant that they go into their next two games against Mexico and Poland with a high risk of being knocked out in the group stages of the competition.
The most iconic white shirt in football
Saudi Arabia manager Herve Renard’s white shirt, worn unbuttoned at the top, is a sort of superstition for the two time AFCON winning coach. Renard had won the African Cup of Nations back in 2012 with Zambia and then repeated the feat back in 2015 with Ivory Coast.
Ahead of the World Cup, Renard had told Esquire, “We (Zambia) were playing in the second game of the (2010) Africa Cup of Nations against Cameroon,” Renard recalled to Esquire. “I wore a light blue shirt, but we lost 3-2 so in the following game, I wore a white shirt. We won and finished first in the group, in front of Cameroon.”
“Of course I have lost some games since then,” the Frenchman added. “Maybe I even lost a lot. But I also won many. I like this style but I’d say the weather has to be nice. When I coached in England, the white shirt in December was not possible. Or maybe this is the reason I wasn’t successful in England!”
Will there be Rolls Royce for Saudi Arabia goal scorers?
Saudi Arabia are known to open their hearts and purse strings to their World Cup goal-scorers. In their World Cup debut in 1994, they were 500-1 outsiders but they raised the bar at the big stage. Against Belgium, they scored a goal that for long was considered the country’s best-ever goal. Striker Saeed Al-Owairan came with a magical 70-yard run to find the net. Al-Owairan was to get a Rolls-Royce once he returned home. For the two goal scorers in their 2022 tournament opener, Al Dawsar and Al Shehri, it may be time for a garrage update.