Saudi Arabia produced a monumental World Cup upset by launching an extraordinary second half comeback to beat one of the pre-tournament favourites Argentina 2-1 at a pulsating Lusail Stadium.
The Asian side, ranked 51st in the world, recorded just their fourth-ever tournament victory – and their second since 1994 – to end a 36-match unbeaten run from a star-studded Argentinian side led by Lionel Messi.
Messi’s bid to win international football’s biggest prize in his fifth and final appearance got off to the perfect start when he rolled in a penalty after just 10 minutes.
All eyes were on Messi ahead of what the man himself admitted will be his final World Cup and, in his own words, the “last chance to make my dream a reality””.
It didn’t take him long to make his presence felt, as the 35-year-old had a dangerous shot well saved by Mohammed Al Owais inside two minutes.
The breakthrough soon arrived when referee Slavko Vincic awarded Argentina a penalty following a VAR review, adjudging Leandro Paredes to have been illegally wrestled to the ground at a corner.
Messi stepped up, waited for the keeper to move, and rolled a typically calm spot kick into the bottom corner to open his account in Qatar.
The goal saw him become the first Argentinian to score in four different World Cups, overtaking Gabriel Batistuta and Diego Maradona’s record of finding the net in three.
Saudi Arabia coach Renard lined his team up with a very high defensive line, and they were repeatedly inches away from being punished as Argentina had three first-half goals ruled out for offside.
First Messi raced onto a long ball and slotted home, before Lautaro Martinez finished well twice, but on all three occasions the offside flag denied Argentina a goal that would’ve doubled their lead.
The Saudis hung on until half time with a one-goal deficit, but they suffered a blow when captain Salman Al-Faraj looked devastated as he was forced off with injury.
Saudi Arabia were a team transformed in the second half and netted a superb equaliser in the 49th minute when Al-Shehri held off Cristian Romero and guided a shot into the far corner to score with his team’s first effort of the game.
Just four minutes later, they had completed the comeback. Al-Dawsari plucked the ball out of the air, cut inside two defenders and whipped a stunning shot into the far top corner.
It was just the kind of moment of individual brilliance that Argentina needed to get back into the game, but the South Americans couldn’t find a way through a resilient and aggressive Saudi defence.
Al Owais made some good saves, denying Nicolas Tagliafico from close range and holding tame headers from Messi and substitute Julian Alvarez.
The pressure grew as eight minutes of stoppage time began, but it was disrupted by a nasty head injury to Yasir Al Shahrani, who needed to be replaced but gave a thumbs up to the crowd to show he was OK.
There were scenes of elation at the final whistle, as Saudi Arabia saw out a deserved win thanks to a wonderful second half performance.