Lionel Messi and Argentina suffered a shock 2-1 defeat in their opening World Cup fixture at the hands of Saudi Arabia, which has gone down as arguably the biggest upset in the history of the tournament, which dates back to 1930.
Current Copa América holders Argentina headed into the tournament as the standout favourites due to having a much healthier and more balanced squad relative to previous tournaments. Lionel Scaloni’s men were on a 36-game unbeaten run prior to the encounter with Saudi Arabia, just one short of equaling Italy’s record of the longest unbeaten stretch by a national side.
Argentina opened the scoring In the 10th minute through none other than Lionel Messi, who stepped up to convert a spot-kick after his side were awarded a penalty. The ball would hit the back of the Saudi net a further three times in the first half, but the strikes were all ruled out by VAR for offside.
The game would turn on its head soon after half-time, as the Saudis scored two quick-fire goals in the 48th and 53rd minute, respectively. La Alibceleste pushed hard to find an equalizer, but was met by resolute defending as well as a strong showing from Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais.
Argentina piled on the pressure after going a goal behind, but were not clinical enough as only 6 of their 15 shots at goal were on target. In comparison, Saudi only registered three shots throughout the entire match, scoring from both their efforts on target.
Saudi Arabia manager Herve Renard has been making a name for himself among the lesser renowned national teams. He guided Zambia to the 2012 AFCON before winning it again in 2015 with Ivory Coast. Renard then took Morocco to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, their first appearance at the tournament since 1998. However, leading 51st-ranked Saudi Arabia to victory over tournament favourites and 3rd-ranked Argentina at the World Cup will certainly position itself amongst some of his greatest achievements.
The result will go down as one of, if not the biggest shock in World Cup history, due to the difference in ranking of the two nations by FIFA, as well as the sheer discrepancy in quality and footballing history between the two nations.
Having begun the tournament as favourites, it remains unclear as to whether the result will affect the mentality and confidence of the Argentine camp. However, La Albiceleste can take heart from Spain’s story in 2010, where they lost their opening fixture against Switzerland but still went on to lift the trophy in South Africa.
Argentina will be looking to bounce back from the shock defeat when they play South American rivals Mexico on Saturday.