While the World Cup is littered with upsets throughout its storied 92-year history, shock results at football’s greatest tournament still manage to send shockwaves across the globe — and Saudi Arabia’s 2-1 victory over pre-tournament favourites Argentina did nothing short of that.
One game away from the world record for the most successive wins in international football, this game against the Saudis was predicted to be a run-of-the-mill victory for Lionel Scaloni’s men in the World Cup tips 2022 — and when Lionel Messi converted an early penalty in the ninth minute, many expected the flood gates to open for La Albiceleste.
Argentina, despite being far from their best, did have the back of the net bulging twice more in the first period, but both Messi and Lautaro Martinez were adjudged to be in offside positions. Herve Renard’s men seemed to grow into it more and more as Scaloni’s side flattered to deceive, and it appeared only one team came out for the second half with the intention of winning — Saudi Arabia.
Saleh Alshehri drew the boys in green level with a coolly taken finish three minutes into the second 45 minutes, and with Argentina against the ropes, Salem Aldawsari curled home an absolute peach of an effort to beat the fingertips of Aston Villa’s Emi Martinez — who tried his best to stop the shot, but it was beyond the reach of his outstretched arm.
With over 35 minutes left to play, the general consensus was that Argentina would kick through the gears and spare themselves the embarrassment. But despite Messi and company upping the tempo and doing all they could to force a breakthrough, Saudi remained resilient at the back and took every opportunity going to run the clock down.
If you turned the game on just as the final whistle peeped at the Lusail Stadium, you’d have thought Saudi Arabia had just won the World Cup itself going by the subsequent celebrations — which carried on into the dressing room. But who can blame them, at 22/1 pre-match and into triple figures in-play when Messi put them a goal down, there is arguably no bigger upset in the tournament’s rich history.
There are shock results that come close, of course — particularly at the 2002 tournament in Japan and South Korea. Perhaps one of the greatest international teams ever assembled, Senegal beat defending World Champions France 1-0 in the opening game of the competition. Co-hosts South Korea beating Portugal, Italy and Spain before eventually being stopped by Germany in the semis is also up there.
More recent upsets include; 2010 hosts South Africa beating France to ensure Les Bleus’ group stage exit, Costa Rica beating Italy 1-0 at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and South Korea again proving a thorn in the side of the big guns in Russia four years ago — this time beating Germany 2-0 to ensure the four-time winners and defending champions crashed out in the group stages.
Given the magnitude of the World Cup, it is no real surprise that it is filled with thrills and spills. But, don’t expect a bigger one this year than Saudi Arabia’s victory over Argentina.