Another shocking story emerged from the World Cup in Qatar but it was about football. It started with Lionel Messi making a little piece of history for Argentina and ended with Saudi Arabia’s players, including the captain on crutches, walking out of the Lusail Stadium in blissful disbelief after causing the biggest mess in the competition’s history. were bouncing around.
The script was set. Argentina arrived as one of the favourites, as reigning Copa America champions, unbeaten in 36 games and with Messi on course to wrap up his historic career with crowning glory. And they took the lead on 10 minutes thanks to a penalty from their 35-year-old superstar.
Scribd were ranked 51st in the world – one below Qatar, oddly enough – and Argentina and Messi plan to follow suit without reacting against Mexico and Poland. Group C has been fraught with sudden danger for the two-time winners, with results in World Cup history including USA v England in 1950, Northern Ireland v Spain in 1982 and Cameroon’s defeat of Argentina in the opening game of the 1990 tournament. Will remain , Diego Maradona’s team recovered to reach the final that year. Messi sees Qatar as his last chance to emulate his late great predecessor in the number 10 shirt. But not like that.
Hervé Renard, the French head coach of Saudi Arabia, who won the Africa Cup of Nations with Zambia and Ivory Coast and was sacked after a few matches in charge of Cambridge United, called it “some completely crazy” spring. Said to be a classic example of football’s ability to do that. He was right in many ways.
Argentina had three goals disallowed for offside within 13 minutes of the first half. He missed chances and ran into a commanding goalkeeper in the form of Mohamed Al-Owais. His opposite number, Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martinez, had precious little to offer other than collecting the ball twice from his net.
Yet there was merit in Saudi Arabia’s shocking reversal. In the second half they were relentless, dangerous, physical and extremely well organised, with central defender Hassan Al-Tambqati leading a spirited resistance. And his goals were perfect, especially the winner.
Lionel Scaloni’s team got off to a fast start. The impressive Argentine support was rewarded with a near-perfect start when Messi forced Owais to make a save just short with 96 seconds left. He didn’t have to wait long for the moment he had longed for.
Vincic stopped play after Messi’s free-kick was punched by the Saudi Arabian goalkeeper. Saudi’s heart sank when he ran towards the pitch-side monitor to see Saudi Abdulhamid wrestle Leandro Parade on the ground again a corner seconds earlier. It was a clear, well-directed punishment. Messi rose to the occasion, waited for Owais to commit on the left and fired a nonchalant penalty to the keeper’s right. In doing so, Messi became the first Argentine player to score in four World Cup tournaments – 2006, 2014, 2018 and 2022 – and the fifth man in history to achieve the feat.
Saudi Arabia’s commitment to a high defensive line was a high-risk strategy that almost played into Argentina’s hands in the first half.
Messi was clearly off when played by Alejandro Gomez and beat Owais with a measured finish. Lautaro Martínez was also clearly offside while rounding the Saudi goalkeeper and converting Messi’s through-ball. The international forward was extremely unlucky for Argentina’s second offside goal, however, with the VAR ruling that the tip of his shoulder was a fraction ahead of Abdulhamid as he ran onto Rodrigo de Paul’s defence-splitting pass. Scaloni had no complaints.
Argentina’s inability to calculate its dominance has made Saudi Arabia…