Saudi Arabia produced the shock of the 2022 World Cup so far by beating Argentina 2-1 in front of a celebratory crowd at Lusail Stadium in Doha.
The victory by Herve Renard’s men was the first time an Arab or Asian team have beaten the two-time world champions at this level, and will go down as one of the greatest upsets in the history of the competition.
Argentina took the lead after only 10 minutes through Lionel Messi’s penalty, and looked to have doubled their lead when Lautaro Martinez netted later in the first half, only for VAR to intervene and rule out the goal.
The Saudi players emerged from the break a team on a mission, and completed a remarkable turnaround with two wonderful strikes by Saleh Al-Shehri in the 48th minute and star man Salem Al-Dawsari five minutes later.
Argentina came back strongly but some heroic defending and a man-of-the-match performance by goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais saw them secure a historic win in their opening Group C fixture.
A 0-0 draw between Poland and Mexico in the same group means Saudi Arabia lead the pack.
Renard said after the match: “We made history for Saudi football; it will stay forever.
“That is the most important thing. But we have to look forward. We have two difficult games ahead of us.”
The French coach, who masterminded Morocco’s World Cup campaign in Russia four years ago, thanked the Kingdom’s leaders and football authorities for their backing and faith in his abilities, and for supporting the team.
“When I decided to coach this team three years ago I found all the support,” he told Reuters.
“We have a great federation president and also a great Ministry of Sport.
“When we met with the prince (Mohammed bin Salman), he did not put any pressure on us, and this is wonderful. Being pressured does not work often.”
Renard revealed that before the match he had told his players to think of the 35 million watching at home. He added that some of them had shed tears before entering the field of play.
Saudi Arabia’s next match will be against Poland on Nov. 26 at Education City Stadium in Doha, and they will conclude their group matches against Mexico on Nov. 30 at Lusail Stadium.