Football upset

Editorial Board
Thursday, Nov 24, 2022

Qatar’s Lusail Stadium will forever be etched in Saudi folklore after the Green Falcons’ stunning 2-1 triumph over two-time champions and one of the title favourites at the 2022 Football World Cup – Argentina. In what was perhaps the greatest upset in World Cup history, Saudi Arabia – placed at a lowly 51 in the world football rankings – came back from one goal down to beat Lionel Messi’s Argentina on Tuesday. The whole of the Arabian peninsula erupted with pure joy at the astonishing Saudi victory that has put them within striking distance of qualifying for the World Cup knockout round for only the second time in history. Even hosts Qataris, who have had troubled relations with Saudi Arabia in recent years, joined in the celebration. Among the attendees of the match was Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani who was seen with a Saudi flag wrapped over his shoulders.

Saudi Arabia has pumped in billions of dollars in sports like golf, Formula One and boxing in recent years but Western critics have mostly rejected it as ‘sportswashing’. While huge investments on other sports projects are yet to pay off, Saudi footballers have given Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman a huge gift with their conquest of La Albiceleste. Even a day after the historic game, it’s hard to believe how Messi’s Argentina could succumb to an unfancied team like Saudi Arabia. It was supposed to be a cakewalk for the Copa America champions who arrived in Qatar with a 36-game unbeaten record, just one shy of Italy´s all-time record of 37 matches. Together with Brazil and title holders France, Argentina were seen as one of the hot favourites for the World Cup. Tens of millions of fans not just in Argentina but all over the world were backing them especially because it’s Messi’s final world cup. Regarded by many as the greatest player of all time, Messi, who has seven Ballons d´Or to his name, has never won a World Cup. The little maestro did begin the World Cup in style as he scored from the penalty spot just ten minutes into Tuesday’s game.

Argentina’s potent attack toyed with the Saudi defence in the first half. But it was a different story after the interval as two stunning goals within a span of five minutes from Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari helped KSA achieve what many believed was impossible. While there were none-stop celebrations followed by a national holiday for Saudis, the result has left Argentina in a perilous zone. A loss against Mexico in their next game would push them out of the World Cup at the very first hurdle. That would be a huge disappointment for hordes of Argentina’s, especially Messi’s, fans. The World Cup meanwhile has gotten off to a sensational start. And Qatar should thank the Saudis for it.