The biggest shocks in #FIFAWorldCup history. This is what FIFA said about the victory of Saudi Arabia against two time World Cup Champions, Argentina.
Argentina came to this World Cup with a superb form of 36 unbeaten games, just a couple of games away from making a record. Since 1930, Argentina never lost a World Cup match after having a half time score of 1-0. The South American team are considered as one of the favourites to lift this 22nd edition of WC.
Saudi Arabian team , nicknamed the Green Falcons, are ranked 51 in the FIFA rankings. The first game for the Falcons in this world cup was against Argentina, who are at rank 3. A definite tough opening fixture for the Falcons at this Qatar World Cup 2022.
However, from the first whistle, the Falcons showed great determination to come out and play without fear. A great save in the second minute by their goalkeeper, Mohammed Alowais, set the tone.
Argentina kept high pressure and took an early lead, courtesy a penalty. Messi stepped up and easily found the back of the net to give them the lead.
The Saudi Arabia players were not at all seen to be impacted by that early goal. The Falcons defense kept a very high line and succeeded in getting the offside trap right. Though the ball did end up in their goal 3 more times in the first half , all of them were ruled off side. They made it tough by pressing high and playing a strong physical game in the first half.
The Half time score read 1-0 to Argentina and looked like they just needed to score the next goal to seal the game. It needed something really special to turn things around for the Falcons.
Hervé Renard, the Saudi Arabia’s coach from France, had other plans. Renard is the first coach to have won the African Cup of nations with two different countries. He took charge of the Falcons in 2019. Renard has a fantastic record in the last 3 years, losing just 5 out of the 32 matches played under his coaching. 17 Wins, 10 draws and winning percentage of 53%.
In 2022, the Falcons have scored and conceded 8 goals each (including the scoreline against Argentina). So it is not an out of the blue result for them. Teams have found it difficult to score against them and even in the recent warm up match before the World Cup, Croatia managed to win with a scoreline of just 1-0.
The second half saw the Falcons scoring the equaliser in the 48th minute. They won the ball near the centre of the pitch, perfect ball from Al-Malki to open up the high Argentinan defense, a deft touch by the no.9 Al-Buraikan and a superb finish by Saleh Al-Shehri. It just took them 5 more minutes to score their second goal. A great run by the right back, a great goal bound attempt which was saved by a header and a great first touch by Salem Al-Dawsari. He controlled the ball really well with the first touch, took it away from the goal, turned back, dribbled 2 defenders and with a total of 4 opposition players around him, Al-Dawsari unleashed a powerful strike to sent the ball flying into the top corner. Both their goals came from left wing , from almost similar position, the first one a grounder and the second a net breaker, and both finding the left side corner of the diving goalkeeper.
The Saudi players had more than 45 minutes to defend after taking the lead, courtesy the extended injury time. Argentina did create issues and almost scored an equaliser. However, the Saudi goalkeeper made some good saves, the defenders played extremely well , midfield and forwards supported to press and push the ball away from their box.
When you look at the stats, it indicates to be going the other way, but kudos to the work rate of all the Saudi Arabian players which ensured to keep them in the game.
As the characteristics of the Falcon, the players had great speed and moved rapidly sideways as well to block, win possession and attack whenever they had a chance. The Falcons played with a zeal to win the game and indeed they got crucial 3 points. The whole country is delighted with the win and have declared a public holiday today to celebrate this huge victory.
For Argentina, it is not over. There were three editions of World Cup where a team who lost their first game have gone and won the trophy. They have two crucial games coming up , first against Mexico and then Poland. In 2018, Argentina had a 1-1 full time scoreline in their first game, which they played against Iceland (click here to read).
For Saudi Arabia, they just have to find one more win from the next two games. A similar fearless determined performance by the Green Falcons will give them the opportunity to move to the their first World Cup knock out rounds.
The game of football is a great level playing field and irrespective of the squad market value (Saudi squad valued approx. 25 Mn USD Vs Argentina squad valued over approx. 600 Mn USD), highly rated players, etc. it is the way in which players come out with the intent that for that particular match which makes a difference. Yes, sometimes teams need the luck factor and as the saying goes, fortune favours the brave. Today, the Falcons showed they were brave and confident.
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