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Argentina 1, Saudi Arabia 2: all-time World Cup upset

A historic result in every sense has kicked off Day 3 for the 2022 World Cup.

Argentina v Saudi Arabia: Group C - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

You’ve gotta put this result way up there in the history books. This is not something you see regularly in a World Cup. Given the quick nature of the tournament, the big teams can’t afford to give up these types of results, and usually pounce on their weaker group opponents from the get-go. So therein lays the magnitude of this result. It’s a resounding development and will echo loudly around the world.

A totally expected start, Argentina came out firing. A heroic save by keeper Al Owais in barely the 2nd minute off a Messi attempt from inside the box got the party started. And in reality, the entire first half belonged to La Albiceleste. VAR did a great job in correcting / calling the PK that had eluded the ref, as Leandro Paredes was clearly dragged down by the Saudi defender.

Speaking of VAR, Argentina had three goals called off (2 Lautaro, 1 Messi) after VAR intervened, all due to offside. Two of them were no doubters, but on Lautaro’s first, it had to be a couple inches on his shoulder, because the only other part of his body that was in front of the defender was his arm (which doesn’t count). In the end, all three were good calls. It’s amazing how soccer too can be but a game of inches. How that would’ve changed the outcome in this one.

You figured it was a matter of time before Messi and company busted this one open after completely dominating the first 45 minutes. But the Saudis had other plans in mind. Two quick goals to turn the match around altered the entire second half. They were both high caliber strikes, especially the second one from Salem Aldawsari. However, on Saleh Alshehri’s goal (who scored his team’s first), the pass by Al-Malki was mishandled by al-Buraikan. CBs Otamendi and Romero should’ve attacked the ball and cleared right there. It was a split second decision, but they instead hesitated and allowed Alshehri to gain control. They quickly regretted it.

Argentina never recovered mentally. Despite the wide open miss by Lisando Martínez and Nicolás Tagliafico on the same play roughly ten minutes later, they failed to create any clear opportunities thereafter. Messi was afforded no space whatsoever. After the damage he had done in the first half, the Saudis adjusted once they took the lead and had an extra man specifically waiting to meet Lio once he got passed his first guy.

70% ball possession and 15 total shots couldn’t translate into real second half danger. You just felt they were mentally out of the game after they went down 2-1. Saudi Arabia had just 3 total attempts, meaning the entirety of their offense came in that small 5 minute spurt where they got both of their goals. But we know soccer isn’t about deserving, but about who puts it in the net more times.

Notables from the match were Messi and Lautaro for sure. They looked super sharp in the first half and scored on all those wide open chances that were ultimately called back. On Saudi Arabia’s side you have to credit French head coach Hervé Renard. It was a total team effort, and he had his boys ready. At one point, he had a back-line of 6 or 7 defenders, definitely not something you see everyday, but he figured out how to cancel out this all-around dangerous squad, and especially Messi. In the second half, La Pulga was never comfortable on the ball or off.

Historic stuff from Saudi Arabia in this one. They are 51st in FIFA rankings to Argentina’s 3rd. Hard to remember the last time such a low ranked team defeated such a high one. Last WC, Germany lost to both Mexico and South Korea, but they weren’t as low ranked. Meanwhile, the opening match of the 2002 WC could compare, when France (1st) lost to Senegal (42nd). In the 2006 WC, Czech Republic (2nd) lost to Ghana (48th). Hard to tell which one is a bigger upset, but today’s sits up there for sure.

Not only was today’s result an upset, it has rewritten the World Cup upset history books. And so, we have a momentary unexpected Group C leader in Saudi Arabia with 3 points, while Messi’s Argentina sit last with 0. We’ll see if those positions change with the Mexico - Poland match later today at 11 am ET / 8 am PT.