It was the numerous Saudi Arabian fans, many of whom reached this first World Cup in the Arab world by car, that unleashed a most unexpected noise. They welcomed whiplash goals from Saleh al-Shehri in the 48th minute and Salem al-Dawsari in the 53rd minute that will stay in their memories forever. They pushed through all sorts of Argentina threats until they were celebrating a 2-1 win despite not seeing it coming.
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They could have arrived in Group C with a sort of double affinity for that opening game, like all the other fans against Argentina. They would no doubt have supported their home country, but they might also have been lucky ticket holders to witness what is believed to be the final of Lionel Messi’s five World Cups, the 35-year-old global superstar.
And from the start, the futuristic Lusail Stadium, the largest of the eight here, seemed like a backdrop for Messi connoisseurs. Early on, Saudi Arabia suffered a penalty for what appeared to be more than just a shove in the box and Messi, of course, took that penalty. He just steered it and left into the corner and everything looked normal at 1-0 Argentina.
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Everything looked normal after that as well as one of the favorites to win it all looked as it should against one of the notable underdogs on the betting sheets. In a curious 22-34 minute sequence, Argentina appeared to score three goals, two from Messi, all from penetrations of Saudi Arabia’s high defensive line, which left the Argentines pretty much alone with goalkeeper Mohammed al-Owais.
All were ruled offside, two immediately after flags, one after a VAR check. It remained 1-0 until half-time.
If anything, the Argentinians had an easy-going demeanor, which perhaps didn’t sit well with them. The second half gave them things they didn’t expect and stammered to counter.
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In the 48th minute, after the Saudis captured a ball in midfield, Shehri put on a great run that would last him for life, bypassing defender Cristian Romero and sending a pretty ding into the far post to end the game break up. That sent the stadium into an unspeakable roar that might have welcomed a goal from Messi to make it 2-0 but was now welcoming something very different.
Four minutes later, when Argentina’s defense seemed to be faltering, the Saudis suddenly found themselves in a crowded box with the ball spinning. Things got particularly savage when Dawsari took it, dodged a tackle and drilled a shot into the far right post, deflecting off goalkeeper Emi Martinez’s hand.
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From then on, Owais and Saudi Arabia kept up against them with many attacks, but only two appeared to be flashing red. In the 62nd minute, Owais saved a tight bid from Nicolás Tagliafico after a pass from Lisandro Martínez into the box. In the other two minutes of stoppage time and as the celebration neared, Owais went out to clean up some trouble, leaving it open at the end for Julian Alvarez to hammer it in. Abdulelah al-Amri decapitated this from the lineage and reserved its own place in the future narration.
In the final moves, Messi tried many times but didn’t threaten much. The whole meaning of his World Cup had changed, just as the whole meaning of the whole World Cup had changed for the fans next door.
This is an evolving story and will be updated.
World Cup in Qatar
Live Updates: The World Cup resumes in Qatar on Tuesday with four games as one of the greatest players in history and the reigning champions begin their title defenses. Follow our live coverage, analysis and highlights.
USMNT: On their return to the World Cup, the young Americans settled for a 1-1 draw with Wales in their Group B opener defeated Iran 6-2 on Monday.
FIFA threats: Soccer teams representing seven European nations at the World Cup announced Monday their captains will not wear LGBTQ armbands in Qatar after FIFA announced players wearing the bands would be sanctioned. According to Human Rights Watch, Qatari officials have been arbitrarily detaining and ill-treating LGBT people, in some cases as recently as the past month.
Group leader: The USA men’s soccer team, led by coach Gregg Berhalter and star forward Christian Pulisic, has qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement on a disastrous and unsuccessful 2018 season. Here’s a close look at how all the teams in each group are faring stack.
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