Leo Messi’s Argentina took on Qatar’s next-door neighbors, Saudi Arabia, in the first match of the third match day at the 2022 World Cup, and things did not go to plan for them…
Argentina were one of the bookie’s favourites to win the tournament, whereas Saudi Arabia weren’t even ranked within the top 50 teams in the FIFA world rankings…
As expected, the Argentines came out looking sharp and got straight to work on testing the Saudi defence. It took just 10 minutes for the ball to find the back of the net, courtesy of a penalty taken by captain, Messi.
The decision was given as a result of Leandro Parades being dragged to the ground whilst awaiting an incoming corner – not dissimilar from an incident that saw England fullback, Harry Maguire bought down against Iran yesterday. Maguire wasn’t given the benefit on his occasion, unlike the Argentines.
Argentina continued to threaten a very high-held Saudi back line, and found the back of the net twice more within the first 30 minutes.
Despite this, the score remained 1-0, as both goals were disallowed due to offsides. The first of which, netted by Lautaro Martinez, was even ruled as a goal by VAR before having the decision turned around.
Roy Keane said of the Saudi tactics at half time “it’s a dangerous game to play” and also stated that he didn’t believe the Messi penalty to be a fair decision – something that his peers at ITV disagreed with.
Saudi Arabia themselves looked good going forward, enjoying their fair share of possession for the majority of the first half, but lacked the quality to create chances on goal in the final third. This inability to challenge the Argentine goalkeeper was the difference between the two teams in the first half, keeping Messi & Co a whisker ahead going into the break.
The Saudis were also dealt another blow minutes before halftime, when their Captain and No7, Salman Alfara, limped off the pitch injured. He was replaced by Salem Al-Dawsari who played out the 5 minutes of stoppage time before the whistle blew for the break.
Neither side made any changes over the halftime break and Saudi Arabia kicked off the second half in the hopes that it would bring more for them than the first.
Saudi Arabia continued their high press, evident by the fact that Argentina’s 8 offsides within the first 47 minutes of this game total more than their entire campaign during the last World Cup.
Just 2 minutes in to this second half and Saudi Arabia EQUALISE!
Messi is surrounded as he receives the ball in the centre circle and is dispossessed. The ball falls to the feet of the Saudi midfield, who immediately play it straight down the middle to Firas Al-Buraikan.
Buraikan nods the ball into the path of Saleh Al-Shehri, who manages to stride around an incoming Argentine defender and slide the ball past Martinez and into the far bottom corner of the goal!
This equaliser gives a visible boost to the Saudi squad who press Argentina immediately following Al-Shehri’s goal.
Just 6 minutes after their equaliser, Salem Al-Dawsari takes Saudi Arabia ahead with a wonderful strike!
A venomous strike, bound for goal, is blocked by an Argentine defender. The ball loops up into the air over the box and is brought down by Al-Dawsari.
The Saudi forward niftily makes his way around 3 Argentinians to find the space to let off a rocket of a strike which makes its way past Martinez and into the back of the net!
Saudi Arabia looked like a different team since coming out from the halftime break and continued to push Lionel Scaloni’s men.
Scaloni responds by bringing on Lisandro Martinez, E. Jeremias Fernandez and Julian Alvarez to replace Cristian Romero, Leandro Paredes and Papu Gomez.
Argentina ramp up their own pressure and once the Saudi noise has died down form their second goal, begin their own offence. They dominate possession for a 15-minute period and make the Saudi goalkeeper, Al Owais, work for a living.
Al Owais makes severable notable saves over a hectic 10-minute period for Saudi Arabia, ultimately keeping the ball out of the back of his net, much to the frustration of Messi & Co.
Hervé Renard bolsters out his defensive line by bringing in Sultan Alganham for the first of their goal scorers, Saleh Al Shehri 77 minutes in.
Argentina looked visibly desperate to equalise and continue their push. The best chance of a Messi goal comes 78 minutes in when Argentina are awarded a free-kick infant of the box roughly 25 yards out for a foul on Messi. The decision is arguably a weak one but it stands.
Messi steps up with purpose to take the free-kick, but disappoints fans worldwide by sending it into the heavens above the Saudi goal.
The theme of the last 30 minutes of this game was the ferocity of the Saudi defending. Their squad picked up a total of 6 yellow cards during this period, as compared to the 0 cards handed out in the first half – showing their willingness to put bodies at the ball and into challenges to defend their one-goal lead.
Goalkeeper, Al Owais is a key figure in making sure that the Argentines don’t get what they are looking for and makes another handful of important interceptions of the ball in the latter stages of the game.
Argentina looked desperate as they try and get the goal that would bring them back in the game, but the dedication of the Saudi players holds them off.
The only dark spot on what has turned into a wonderful game of football comes 95 minutes in, when Saudi defender Al-Sharahni takes a HORRIBLE knee to the face from his own keeper as they both leap in to the air to defend the ball.
He is stretched off 98 minutes in after play had initially continued. He seemed to be awake but his condition is not currently known since the nasty blow to the head – we hope to see him healthy and back in action soon.
An additional 8 minutes had initially been declared for this second half, extending to 11 considering the time taken to make sure that Al-Sharahni made it off the pitch safely following his head trauma.
This, however, is not enough for an Argentine side who, before today, were 36 games unbeaten.
The final whistle blows with the scoreline still set at 2-1 in Saudi Arabia’s favour as they shock the world and the Argentines in their opening match of this 2022 World Cup!