Two goals, in quick succession, gave Saudi Arabia a massive victory over tournament favorites Argentina on Tuesday in the Qatar FIFA World Cup 2022.
It meant that a goal by eight-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi failed to provide the magical spark La Albiceleste needed to overcome a dogged opponent seeking to make a splash in their own backyard.
This was the first world cup being played by Argentina after its legendary player Diego Maradona passed away two years ago. It is also what will be current legend Messi’s last world cup.
Playing a risky high defensive line, the athletic Saudis rode their luck in the first half.
Argentina dominated the first half and it seemed only a matter of time before Saudi Arabia’s risky defensive tactics would cost them.
That condensed the game into a sliver of green turf around the halfway line as the Asian side happily allowed Argentina’s back four to pass the ball among themselves.
It seemed Saudi Arabia were facing a long afternoon after VAR intervened to award a penalty when Saud Abdulhamid wrestled Leandro Paredes to the ground in the box at a corner.
Messi waited for goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais to dive to his left before coolly rolling the ball into the opposite corner.
But if the Saudis felt aggrieved at the technology, it would later help keep them in the game.
Argentina had the ball in the net three times only to be denied by by razor-tight offside calls on all three occasions.
It finished with advantage Argentina at the break. But it seems that the pep talk given to Saudis, who would have been encouraged to restrict Argentina to a solitary strike from the spot, to have a go at their opponents after break.
That is precisely what they did, and Saudi Arabia came out stronger.
In a chaotic start to the second half, the Saudis swarmed all over Lionel Scaloni’s team and scored twice as the Arab nation beat the South Americans for the first time in five attempts.
There was no controversy about the equaliser three minutes into the second half, though, as Saleh Alshehri ran onto a touch from Feras Al-Brikan, beat Cristian Romero on the outside and slotted the ball back across goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez and into the far corner.
The sizeable Saudi contingent in the Lusail stadium – where the World Cup final will be held – exploded in joy.
Suddenly the Argentines were rattled and five minutes later the turnaround was complete.
Al-Dawsari’s clever turn in the box beat two defenders before he shifted the ball past a third and rifled an unstoppable shot into the top far corner.
The five minute reversal seemed to knock the wind out of the Argentinians who took some doing to get their feet and rhythm back. But by then it was a little too late.
The crowd was going wild and Hassan Al-Tambakti punched the air in delight after his desperate sliding tackle denied Messi a clear shot at goal.
Every Al-Owais save, including a point-blank block from Nicolas Tagliafico’s close-range prod, was greeted with rapturous cheers.
There was late drama after Al-Owais collided with Yasser Al-Shahrani and seemed to knock him out as his knee struck the defender’s head.