Saudi Arabia have beaten Argentina 2-1 in a shock result at the Lusail Iconic Stadium, putting doubts over Lionel Messi’s chances of winning the World Cup in his ‘last dance’.
It was that man, Lionel Messi, who put his side into the lead, converting a penalty after just 10 minutes. It was a controversial decision, as Harry Maguire wasn’t awarded a penalty for a similar foul against Iran.
Saudi Arabia’s coach, Herve Renard, is well known for being an ambitious manager, and he sent out his team instructing them to have a very high line.
This took extreme courage, as Argentina has one of the best attacks in world football, featuring Lionel Messi, Lautaro Martinez, Angel Di Maria, and Paulo Dybala. The space that some of these players would have in behind the Saudi Arabia defence would be terrifying.
In addition to this, Argentina were on red-hot form, with Scaloni’s side coming into this game on a 36-game unbeaten streak.
The tactics paid off however, with the high line working perfectly. Argentina had the ball in the net 3 times in the first half, but they were consequently disallowed for offside.
The high press was also a nightmare for Argentina to deal with. It is a credit to Saudi Arabia that they managed to play at 1pm Qatar time in the heat and maintain the fitness levels they did and keep up with Argentina, but to chase them down constantly too.
Early into the second half, Saudi Arabia equalised with 49 minutes on the clock. Al-Shehri scored a very well taken goal. It came from a high, defence-splitting ball down the middle, which was flicked onto Al-Shehri, who beat Romero with his pace before drilling his shot across the goal into the far-right corner.
Within 5 minutes, Saudi Arabia, with the bit between their teeth, stole the lead and had turned the game around in 10 minutes from the restart.
Al-Dawsari, their star man heading into this tournament, proved why he was tipped to be Saudi Arabia’s hero. Some tricky feet from Al-Dawsari took the ball away from Di Maria, Molina and De Paul, before he unleashed a rocket into the top right corner. Martinez got a hand to it, but he was never going to stop it.
Saudi Arabia then had to hold on for at least another 37 minutes against one of the favourites for this World Cup.
Argentina took control of the game from this point and dominated the chances, as expected. Renard’s team held on well and had the perfect composure to hold onto the ball at times, but to clear their lines when they needed to in no-nonsense fashion.
Renard had set his team up in the second half to come out all guns blazing and increase them tempo, however this slowed as the second half progressed, and Saudi Arabia attempted to kill off the game and make it less open.
Saudi Arabia used all tactics possible to hold onto the win, as they ruined Argentina’s flow using gamesmanship. They picked up 6 yellow cards and used 4 substitutes from when they took the lead.
A horror injury for Al-Shahrani extended the 8 minutes of added time, he collided with the goalkeeper’s knee, knocking him unconscious.
Saudi Arabia managed to hold on though, in a game that you couldn’t take your eyes off, and it puts the cat amongst the pigeons in Group C. It was not a defensive performance by any means, and it was a fully deserved win.
This upset will have Mexico and Poland licking their lips, hoping of securing a potential top spot-on goal difference, whilst Saudi Arabia have every chance of reaching the round of 16.
The group shake-up means that Argentina’s next game, against Mexico on Saturday, is must-win if they want to keep the Messi dream alive.