The FIFA World Cup in Qatar has provided fans with an incredible upset this morning, as tournament favourites Argentina suffer defeat at the hands of a team ranked 53rd in the world rankings.
An early soft penalty likened to a challenge against Harry Maguire for England yesterday which wasn’t given, gifted Lionel Messi his first goal of the tournmanet, and gave Argentina a 1-0 lead. Things looked as though they were going to play out how we all expected them to. As favourites to reach the final stages of the tournament, the Argentines looked on course to deliver the type of result everyone expected.
Argentina had a barnstorming first half of chances, breaking time and time again into the Saudi half, although they just couldn’t stay onside. The Saudi backline was pushed to it’s maximum, and superstar Messi and Inter forward Martinez couldn’t hold their runs. The ball hit the back of the Saudia net numerous times in the first half, although, when the half-time whistle blew, the score remained 1-0.
Football fans were treated to a somewhat heated exchange between Roy Keane and Graeme Souness, as they discussed the softness of the penalty. Souness told Keane that he should listen, and he might learn something, in a moment that felt like it might be one of the only talking points of the match.
However, nobody could have predicted what would transpire when the second half began, as Saudi Arabia front-man, Saleh Alshehri, managed to get off a shot that went past E. Martinez in goal. The stadium erupted, and worried looks were thrown around the Argentine camp, as a team that had won just two out of their last ten games began playing with belief.
They continued an onslaught of high-pressure attacking until the ball hit the back of the Argentine net again in the 53rd minute. This time, Salem Aldawsari, was the scorer, curling the ball in competently from the edge of the box.
The Middle-East erupted with cheers, as the belated forward celebrated his goal!
A timely tackle against Messi in the 56th minute was celebrated like a winning goal. Argentina substitutes arrived in the 58th minute, although instead of playing their game, Argentina continued to look tense, misplacing passes, and wilting to Saudi pressure that had been being applied in the midfield from the first whistle.
However, it was the Saudi backline, and their goalkeeper, who kept them in it. WIth a brilliant reaction save in the 62nd minute, just after an outside foot cross from Di Maria that led to a fruitless corner, as Martinez came to within inches of connecting with a header.
After the 70 minute mark Argentina started to play with a little more invention and wit, but this came to an end after an inciteful pass from Messi ended with a poor effort on goal from Di Maria. The winger was supplying crosses to nobody all game, as the lack of a central striker seemed to be the South American teams’ undoing. The one time when he did cut inside with an idea of putting the ball in the net himself, he was closed down by three players, resulting in a free kick in the 78th minute that Messi hoofed over the bar.
Di Maria again offered a paceless ball to Messi in the 83rd minute, which he harmlessly headed into the waiting gloves of the thankful goalie.
The Saudi defence remained imperious, even after 90 minutes of play, clearing the ball off the line heroically in the 91st min, even though the linesman called for yet another offside.
In the 94th minute, a bizzare moment occured where the Saudi keeper came flying out to punch away the ball, only to incapacitate his own defender with an excruciating knee blow to the face. Their defenders covered the line, as the keeper was caught in no-man’s land, in what looked to be the moment when Argentina would draw level, as Lionnel Messi got on the ball…but he couldn’t get a shot away.
Of course, all hope is not lost for the South Americans. They famously lost the opening game in the 1990 World Cup and went on to reach the final. That being said, without a front-man to put the ball in the net, the Argentine side may struggle throughout the tournament.
With 5 minutes added at the end of the first half, and 8 minutes added at the end of the second, the officials are continuing to adhere to the fierce new guidelines supposed to battle time-wasting antics. However, it doesn’t take a genius to predict that with all the extra play time, in such intense matches, there is a huge risk of injury to players.
Argentina next play Mexico at 19:00 Saturday 26th November.
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