Saudi Arabia stuns Argentina in World Cup Group C

Feras Albrikan (C) of Saudi Arabia greets Lionel Messi (R) of Argentina after the Group C match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia at the 2022 FIFA World Cup at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Nov. 22, 2022. (Xinhua/Li Ga)

Saleh Alshehri and Salem Aldawsari scored second-half goals as Saudi Arabia caused a major upset by beating Argentina 2-1 in their FIFA World Cup Group C match here on Tuesday.

Lionel Messi gave Argentina the lead by converting a 10th-minute penalty before Alshehri and Aldawsari struck early in the second half in front of 88,000 fans at Lusail stadium.

The result ended the Albiceleste’s unbeaten run of 36 matches dating back to the 2019 Copa America in Brazil, where they lost to the tournament hosts in the semifinals.

It marked Saudi Arabia’s first-ever victory over the South American team and only their fourth win in 17 World Cup matches overall.

Argentina, considered by many as title favorites before the tournament began, will now likely need to win both of their remaining group matches against Mexico and Poland to advance to the next round.

Everything seemed to be going to script for the two-time World Cup champions when Slovenian referee Slavko Vincic awarded a penalty in the ninth minute after Ali Albulayhi pulled down Leandro Paredes following a set piece.

Messi sent goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais the wrong way as he calmly rolled the ball into the back of the net.

The Albiceleste had three goals ruled out for offside in the first half – twice from Martinez and once from Messi – as they struggled to find a way past Saudi Arabia’s high defensive line.

Saudi Arabia didn’t have a single shot in the first 45 minutes but that would soon change as Herve Renard’s men emerged from the interval looking a different unit.

Alshehri capitalized on loose defending from Cristian Romero to equalize in the 48th minute with an angled finish into the far corner.

The goal sent Saudi Arabia’s vocal legion of supporters into wild celebrations. The noise reached fever pitch five minutes later when Aldawsari shifted onto his right foot and rifled a shot into the top-right corner to give his team the lead.

Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni responded with a triple substitution as Enzo Fernandez, Julian Alvarez and Lisandro Martinez replaced Paredes, Papu Gomez and Romero.

The changes appeared to make an immediate impact. Alowais made a superb reflex save to deny Martinez and then kept out Angel Di Maria’s shot with his second attempt.

Argentina continued to press but struggled to find a way through the Asian team’s defense. Alowais comfortably saved a Messi header following Di Maria’s cross and Alvarez saw his shot cleared off the line by Abdulelah Al Amri.

Manchester City forward Alvarez had another chance in the 10th minute of stoppage time but his header was palmed away by Alowais.

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