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The World Cup favorite goes down in a shocker.
The World Cup favorite goes down in a shocker. Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images.

Saudi Arabia upsets Messi and Argentina, ends their 36-game unbeaten streak

A Messi penalty in the first 10 minutes gave the heavy favorites an early lead, but two early second-half goals from the Saudis shocked the Argentines.

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It was a shocking afternoon for Lionel Messi and Argentina in Qatar as Saudi Arabia fought back from one goal down early to defeat the World Cup favorites 2-1. The Saudis have a chance to get out of the group stage for the first time since 1994, and also ended the Argentines’ 36-game undefeated streak in all competitions. 

At the Lusail Iconic Stadium in Lusail, Qatar — where the World Cup final will be played — Messi was hoping to be there at the end of the tournament, but today's defeat puts them at the bottom of Group C and off to a terrible start to the 2022 tournament. 

Argentina got off to a promising start as Messi calmly took a penalty to give them the lead in the first 10 minutes after midfielder Leandro Paredes was taken down in the box. They also could have been four goals up if it were not for the controversial VAR technology. VAR disallowed three Argentina goals, two from striker Lautaro Martínez that were found to be offside. 

Overall, it was a disappointing first-half for an Argentina team that created a lot of opportunities, but never cashed in. After the early penalty, Argentina struggled on both sides of the pitch, and the class talent surrounding Messi were stunned by the Saudis' intense pressing. 

The Albicelestes created chances and were dangerous in possession and the Saudis never posed any danger towards them — until after halftime. 

It was the tale of two halves as Saudi Arabia came out swinging early in the minutes of the second half. Three minutes after play resumed, Saudi Arabia tied it off of a stunning equalizer from Saleh Al-Shehri. It was a world-class finish on his left foot as center back Cristian Romero fought back to get in a good tackle but it was a little too late as it went past keeper Emiliano Martínez. 

The Argentines looked rather stunned after the equalizer. The team began to retreat back and had lost all the offensive flair they showed off in the first 45 minutes. And this was the case as five minutes later, the Saudis took the lead with a beauty of a goal that can only be created on the World Cup stage. 

In the 53rd minute,  Salem Al-Dawsari beat a few defenders inside the box and delivered a screamer off his right foot that went off the fingertips of Emiliano Martinez and into the top right corner. Al-Dawsari had been one of the Saudis’ star players throughout the game and now he has scored what is possibly the goal of the tournament so far — and the most crucial one for his team that would end up being the deciding factor in the match. 

Things did not get better for Messi and Co. after going down. When in a position of being down 2-1 at a World Cup game, there is usually a line between urgent and frantic, and most of the Argentina players found themselves on the wrong side of it. Their passes were hurried and no longer up to par as many are accustomed to seeing, and as a result, it made them less likely to be able to regain the lead, let alone tie it up. 

The stadium atmosphere also intensified in what is likely Messi’s fifth and final chance to win the World Cup for his nation. But after going down, the Argentine crowd were quiet and nervous, while the Saudis cheered, and neutral fans began to boo Messi and his team at the Lusail Stadium. Overall, Argentina looked dazed and confused at the circumstances they found themselves in.

The last 10 minutes of regular time — and the eight minutes given for extra time — were a lot better for Argentina as they almost scored on two occasions and were a lot more dangerous than they had been in the first 30 minutes of the second half, but it was not enough. With momentum and the cheers of the crowd pushing them on, the Saudis kept their composure and delivered one of the most shocking upsets in World Cup history. 

The stunning result is now the biggest win in Saudi Arabia’s soccer history. While for Messi and Argentina, it is an embarrassing loss — and their first one in more than three years — for one of the favorites to win the whole tournament. 

Argentina now find themselves at the bottom of their group and face an uphill battle against Mexico and Poland as their hopes of even just getting out of the group stage have massively decreased. They will be regretting this day for years to come in a game that had three goals called off for offsides. But all credit goes to Saudi Arabia, who grabbed complete control of the game early in the second half. 

The Argentines will have an opportunity to grab points against Mexico on Saturday, but this loss may well hover over not only the nation’s head, but the team for the rest of the 2022 World Cup. The Saudis will look to take this momentum into game two against Robert Lewandowski and Poland, also on Saturday.

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