Saudi Arabia surprise Messi’s Argentina to trigger World Cup


Saudi players celebrate their surprise World Cup win over Argentina © AFP / Antonin THUILLIER

Doha (AFP), November 21 – Saudi Arabia pulled off one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history on Tuesday by beating Lionel Messi’s Argentina 2-1, but France kicked off their title defense in style.

Argentina arrived in Qatar on a 36-game unbeaten streak and appeared to be on course for an outright victory after Messi struck an early penalty.

Lionel Scaloni’s Copa America champions could have put the game away from Saudi Arabia in the first half, but scored three for offside.

Saudi Arabia, ranked 51st in the world, equalized early in the second half through Saleh Al-Shehri, silencing the hordes of Argentinian fans.

And minutes later, the Green Falcons were ahead when Salem Al-Dawsari fired an unstoppable shot into the top corner after a delightful trickery.

Argentina, who failed to reach the knockout stage in 2002, will be eliminated on Saturday if they lose their second game against Mexico.

“It’s a very hard blow, a defeat that hurts, but we have to keep having faith in ourselves,” said Messi, who has never won the World Cup.

Lionel Messi’s Argentina fell to Saudi Arabia © AFP / Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV

“This group is not going to give up.”

Saudi Arabia’s French coach Herve Renard says “the stars are aligned” for his side.

“We made football history,” he added. “It will stay forever, that’s the most important thing.

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“But we also have to think about looking to the future. We still have two tough games ahead of us.

– France impresses –

The defeat was a bitter setback for Argentina, who were one game away from equaling Italy’s all-time record of 37 unbeaten matches and came to this World Cup as one of the favourites.

Scaloni insisted his team did not take their opponents lightly.

“What awaits us is to get up, to face Mexico,” he said. “They will be tough, because everyone is at the World Cup. Now we have to win two games to move on.

Defending holders France put their injuries behind them as they came from within a goal to beat Australia 4-1.

Kylian Mbappe continued where he left off in Russia with his fifth World Cup goal © AFP / FRANCK FIFE

Craig Goodwin gave the Socceroos hope of securing the second shock victory of the day with a ninth-minute opener, but France were ahead before half-time thanks to goals from Adrien Rabiot and Olivier Giroud.

Kylian Mbappe, the star of France’s 2018 triumph in Russia, scored a third goal midway through the second half.

Giroud started in place of Karim Benzema after the Ballon d’Or winner joined Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and Presnel Kimpembe in being left out of the tournament through injury.

The 36-year-old netted a brace 19 minutes from time to equalize Thierry Henry at the top of his country’s goalscoring charts with 51 goals.

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Denmark drew 0-0 with Tunisia in the other group game, with talisman Christian Eriksen playing his first game in a major tournament since suffering a cardiac arrest at the European Championship last year. last.

Poland played out a goalless draw with Mexico in Argentina’s other Group C game, with Robert Lewandowski missing a second-half penalty.

The Barcelona striker was denied a first World Cup goal when his 58th-minute kick was saved by veteran keeper Guillermo Ochoa.

– Ronaldo’s exit to Manchester –

Saudi Arabia’s spectacular win shifted the focus – for a while, at least – to the action on the pitch, but Messi’s arch-rival Cristiano Ronaldo was soon in the headlines again.

Manchester United have said the 37-year-old striker, currently with the Portugal side in Qatar, will leave the club with immediate effect following last week’s incendiary TV interview.

Ronaldo had said he felt “betrayed” by the club and had no respect for manager Erik ten Hag.

Back in Qatar, Belgian Jan Vertonghen said he was ‘scared’ to speak about human rights after European nations decided against wearing rainbow-themed captain’s armbands -sky.

Seven countries, including England and Germany, have scrapped plans to wear the armbands at the World Cup due to the threat of disciplinary action from FIFA, including bookings.

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They had been seen as a symbolic protest against the laws of the host country, where homosexuality is illegal.

“I’m afraid that if I say something about it I won’t be able to play tomorrow,” said the defender.

“It’s an experience I’ve never felt in football before. I feel controlled.

“I’m afraid to even say anything about it.”

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