Gulf side, ranked 48 places below South American champions, come from goal down to earn stunning win against Messi and Co
Saudi Arabia manager Herve Renard labelled his side’s World Cup opening win against Argentina as “totally crazy”, but cautioned against his players getting carried away with the victory.
The Gulf side, at No 51 ranked by FiFa 48 places below the South American champions, came from a goal down at a bouncing Lusail Stadium on Tuesday afternoon to register a famous 2-1 triumph.
Lionel Messi opened the scoring through a 10th-minute penalty before Saleh Al Shehri equalised three minutes into the second half. Salem Al Dawsari struck the winner six minutes later, with a superb curling shot.
The win rivals Saudi Arabia’s other notable World Cup success, in 1994, when they defeated Morocco and Belgium in the group stage to qualify for the knockouts.
The national team, who exited the groups in Russia four years ago, are competing in a global finals for the second successive time, and sixth overall.
On Tuesday, following one of the greatest upsets in tournament history, Renard said: “All the stars in the sky were aligned for us, but don’t forget Argentina are still a fantastic team.
“This is football, sometimes totally crazy things can happen.”
Frenchman Renard, who has previously guided Zambia and the Ivory Coast to the Africa Cup of Nations title, said that he was still disappointed with his team’s first-half performance.
Saudi conceded early on, after the Video Assistant Referee deemed Saud Abdulhamid to have fouled Leandro Paredes in the penalty area, with Messi coolly converting the spot-kick. It marked his seventh World Cup goal.
Argentina then had, remarkably, three goals disallowed in 12 minutes – one for Messi and two for Lautaro Martinez – all for off-side.
“Tactically, we were not good in the first half,” Renard said. “Our block was compact but our pressure on the centre-backs and Leandro Paredes was not enough. If we had conceded a second goal at that time, the game would have been finished.
“During half-time I wasn’t happy because the pressure wasn’t good enough, the determination wasn’t good enough and, when you come to the World Cup, you need to give everything. We can’t play as we did in the first half.”
Having began their Group C campaign in unexpected start, Saudi next face Poland on Saturday before taking on Mexico four days later. They have only once previously made it through to the knockout rounds.
Renard, 54, said: “[We can] just have a good celebration during 20 minutes and that’s all – there are still two more games.
“When you come to the World Cup, you need to believe in yourself. Anything can happen in football.”
On whether Argentina, one of the favourites to win the World Cup, had perhaps taken his side lightly, Renard said: “Sometimes the opposition does not have the best motivation, it’s normal, it also happened to us when playing lower teams.
“Some people don’t understand, but you can imagine that when you’re playing against Saudi Arabia, the motivation is not the same as playing against Brazil.”
Meanwhile, Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni urged his shell-shocked players to move on quickly from what will be regarded one of the worst defeats in the country’s history. What’s more, the reigning Copa America champions had not been beaten in 36 matches.
“Today is a sad day but as we always say, chin up and keep going,” Scaloni said. “We were considered favourites before the match but at the World Cup, these kinds of things can happen. We have to work on the things that didn’t work well.
“I think the first half was all ours, but one goal can change everything.”
Argentina must regroup quickly, with another tricky test against Mexico to come on Saturday at the same stadium.
Speaking after the Saudi defeat – the Middle Eastern side are the second-lowest ranked team at the tournament, behind Ghana – Messi described the result as a “very heavy blow”.
“We didn’t expect to start this way,” said the Paris Saint-Germain forward, competing in his fifth, and potentially, final, World Cup. “We need to prepare for what is coming. We need to win or win, and that depends on us. We have to return to the foundation of who we are.”
Messi’s partner in attack, Martinez, told reporters: “We screwed it up in the second half … Small details make a difference. We have to fix them.”