Saudi Arabia edged former world champions Argentina 2-1 in the first game in Group C in the FIFA World Cup at the Lusail Stadium in Qatar on Tuesday.
For the first time since Saudi Arabia began to participate in the World Cup in 1994, the team won their first group game in the tournament. As for Argentina, it was also their first time to lose their first group game in the World Cup since 1990.
Unlike Iran which prioritized defense first but still lost to England 6-2 on Monday, Saudi Arabia took the initiative to attack more aggressively from the beginning in Tuesday's game. The three lines of the team all pressed forward hard and competed with Argentina for the ball from the middle, or even the front field.
Such style of playing was a double-edged sword. Argentina could rarely control the ball around the midfield in the first half, which was also the consequence of Giovani Lo Celso's absence from the national team. However, while Saudi Arabia went so forward, especially from the two wings, Argentina could easily crack the opponents' defensive line with through balls.
However, that was not how Argentina scored to lead. A free-kick by Argentina from the left was cleared out by Saudi Arabia's defender at the eighth minute, but the video assistant referee (VAR) summoned referee Slavko Vincic to the monitor. When Vincic came back, he ruled that Leandro Paredes was pulled to the ground in the box and thus, gave Argentina a penalty kick.
Lionel Messi scored in the ninth minute to help Argentina lead 1-0. Having trailed at such an early stage, Saudi Arabia had more reasons to increase their forces in the front field of attack. That enabled Argentina to keep finding opportunities at the back of the opponents' defensive line. Both Messi and Lautaro Martinez exploited the trick well to score three goals during the rest of the first half, but all of them were ruled offside.
Things took a quick dramatic turn in the second half as Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari scored two goals for Saudi Arabia in six minutes in the second half. First at the 48th minute, Messi's ball was cut in the midfield. Firas Al-Buraikan headed Abdulelah Al Malki's long pass to Al-Shehri who then broke into the box and tired the score 1-1 for Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia's second goal came more from the excellent individual skills of Al-Dawsari. After the thirty-one year old Salem Al-Dawsari's shot was blocked, Al-Dawsari had the ball at the right corner of Argentina's box. He managed to dodge all three defenders guarding him and dribbled to find an open angle to blow the ball into the goal, helping his team lead 2-1.
Argentina then sent more attackers to the field to enhance offense, but this time there was no open space behind Saudi Arabia's backs to use. Meanwhile, whenever Messi had the ball in the front field, he always had to face at least two defenders who both slowed him down and stopped him from going any further.
Though Argentina took major control of the ball in the rest of the game, they couldn't launch an effective attack. Saudi Arabia's box was too crowded to pass the ball more than once. If Argentina worked from the two wings, they could rarely get the ball in the air. Messi and Julian Alvarez both shot a header for the team, but their shots were too far and powerless to threaten Saudi Arabia's goal.
Argentina will play against Mexico on Saturday while Saudi Arabia will face Poland.