The tournament favourites Argentina failed their opening match against Saudi Arabia 1-2 in the Group C clash at Lusail Stadium in Qatar on Tuesday. Argentina’s star player Messi was in touching difference with Cristiano Ronaldo in World Cups. Ronaldo has 7 goals in his name while Messi has 6. If Messi had a couple of goals against Saudi Arabia in the opening match, Messi could take past Ronaldo on Tuesday. But the match disappointed fans all around the world as the football giants failed to a budding team like Saudi Arabia.
Argentina was unbeaten in their last 36 games. The last match they lost is against Brazil, in the 2019 Copa America semifinals. Since then, they won 25 games and drawn 11 matches, became World Cup qualifiers, and won the 2021 Copa America against Brazil. If they won the first match against Saudi Arabia, they could equal Italy’s record for the longest unbeaten streak in international football.
Argentina were heavily expected to beat Saudi Arabia with a strong line-up of Di Maria, Lionel Messi, and Lautaro Martinez guided by Lionel Scaloni.
Argentina had 15 fine shots, six on target but one ended as a goal. That one goal was given by Messi earlier. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia’s 2 shots converted into goals out of the 3 they attempted.
Messi gave Argentina a 10th-minute lead from the penalty spot but they failed to make another turn later. The three tight offside goals in the first half went against Argentina. Denying the three potential goals from the first part itself lead the fans to disappointment.
The second-half goals from Saleh Al-Shehri (48th minute) and Salem Al-Dawsri (53rd minute) helped Saudi pull off one of the most sensational wins in World Cup history.
In the second half, Argentina failed to exploit Saudi’s high defense the way they had done it earlier. Saudi tried really hard throughout the match to defend Argentina.
The defeat was a huge setback for Messi who is most probably playing his last World Cup. Messi reacted to the shocking loss as “It’s a very heavy blow, a defeat that hurts, but we must continue to have confidence in ourselves,” “This group is not going to give up. We will try to beat Mexico”.
Messi then praised Saudi Arabia as a strong opposition.
“We know that Saudi Arabia is a team with good players, who move the ball around well and play a high line. This group is strong and has shown it before. We had not been in this situation for a long time. Now we must show that this is a true group.”
“We worked on that but we rushed it a bit. There are no excuses, we’re going to be more united than ever before” added the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi.
Were the Saudis trying the off-side trap throughout the game is a question raised. Seven off-sides in a game were a little too much for Argentina. The challenge for Saudi may be to maintain the intensity to close down the players and keep the focus on defenders to maintain the offside trap.
Roy Keane blames Di Maria for Argentina’s loss
Manchester United legend Roy Keane blamed Angel Di Maria for the opening defeat.
“There’s no aggression, there are bodies there, you’ve got to go attack there, they’ve lost all composure. They’ve lost their heads, look at Di Maria… Di Maria, my god!”, Keane said.
Di Maria was equally poor at defending and attacking. He has managed two shots in the game, with one being blocked. But Di Maria claims that the opening defeat was just a slip-up.
“We could easily have won 5-0, but we lost. That’s all there is to it. We knew Saudi Arabia were going to play like that, we had prepared, but we couldn’t do it. Perhaps we started the moves too early and that’s why we ended up offside so many times.”
Salman and co tore up the script of the opening match, claiming the win. They had a game plan with them and they executed it well in the match. They were brave against such a trio of Di Maria, Martinez, and Messi. They absolutely deserved the win.