Saudi Arabia yesterday pulled off one of the greatest upsets in FIFA World Cup history, roaring back to beat Lionel Messi’s Argentina 2-1 and set the tournament in Qatar alight.
Copa America champions Argentina came into the game on a 36-match unbeaten streak and appeared to be on their way to a straightforward victory after Messi stroked home an early penalty.
This is likely to be the final World Cup of Messi’s glittering career and it is the one major title to elude him.
Manager Lionel Scaloni’s team could have put the game beyond Saudi Arabia’s reach in the first half, but had three goals chalked off for offside.
Saudi Arabia, the second-lowest-ranked team in the tournament after Ghana, equalized early in the second half through Saleh al-Shehri, silencing the hordes of Argentina fans. Just minutes later the Green Falcons were in front when Salem al-Dawsari rifled an unstoppable shot into the top corner after a delightful piece of trickery.
Argentina laid siege to the Saudi Arabia goal as the minutes ticked away, but Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Mohammed al-Owais proved unbeatable and the final whistle sparked scenes of jubilation.
“Today all the stars were aligned for us,” Saudi Arabia coach Herve Renard said.
“We made history for football,” he said. “It will stay forever, this is most important, but we also have to think about looking forward. We still have two difficult games before us.”
Defeat is a bitter blow for Argentina, who were one game away from equaling Italy’s all-time record of 37 matches unbeaten.
Forward Lautaro Martinez said the loss hurt badly.
“It’s clear we lost the game because of our own mistakes, above all in the second half,” he said. “In the first half, we should have scored more than a goal, but that’s the World Cup. Now we have to rest and think about what’s ahead.”
Before the shock upset, Taiwanese soccer fans were showing their support for Messi in Taipei yesterday.
Actor and singer Hsieh Kun-da, a former member of Taiwanese boy band Energy, supported Messi by wearing his Argentine team jersey at a World Cup pop-up installation that resembled the Argentine locker room and included photographs of Messi and his jersey in the pedestrian mall outside Vie Show Cinemas.
“I really hope he achieves his dream this year,” Hsieh said.
Also wearing the Argentine jersey was a 21-year-old student, surnamed Chen, who was attending a free live public viewing of Argentina and Saudi Arabia’s clash on a giant screen outside the Chunghwa Telecom service center near the Taipei 101 building.
“I really hope he can still play in the World Cup in four years,” Chen said. “He is a very good player and has very good form, even though his attack is not as strong as it used to be.”
WALES V US
AFP, AL-RAYYAN, Qatar
Gareth Bale on Monday scored a late penalty to snatch a 1-1 draw with the US in Wales’ first FIFA World Cup game in 64 years.
Welsh skipper Bale lashed home an 82nd-minute spot-kick to break American hearts moments after earning the penalty when defender Walker Zimmerman crashed into the former Real Madrid star.
The penalty drama canceled out Tim Weah’s superb first-half goal for the US, which had threatened to ruin the celebratory mood surrounding Wales’ long-awaited first World Cup appearance since the 1958 finals in Sweden.
Bale’s equalizer triggered roars from a large and raucous contingent of Wales fans in a crowd of 43,418 fans at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium on the outskirts of Doha.
A rousing half-time team talk by manager Rob Page had helped inspire Wales after a lackluster first-half performance, Bale said.
“Obviously a difficult game. First half was not how we wanted to play. The US played well and we played poorly,” he said. “We played really well in the second half.
ENGLAND V IRAN
AP and AFP, DOHA
He started. He scored. He got serenaded. All in all, 19-year-old Jude Bellingham had a pretty good FIFA World Cup debut on Monday.
The England midfielder, who had not even made his professional debut by the time the last World Cup was played, scored the first goal in England’s 6-2 victory over Iran at Khalifa International Stadium, and it was his first goal for England.
The England fans who made their way to the first World Cup in the Middle East certainly enjoyed it, singing the Beatles classic Hey Jude to Bellingham, who is living up to his reputation as one of the most talented youngsters in the game.
His goal came from a header that sailed over the opposing goalkeeper in the 35th minute.
“To be honest, I thought it had missed,” Bellingham told the BBC. “Then it took ages to loop into the goal... Really proud moment for me.”
Despite losing, Iran’s players used the game to make a statement by not singing their national anthem.
Ahead of the game, captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh said the team would decide together whether to refuse to sing the anthem in a show of solidarity for demonstrations that have rocked the regime in the Islamic republic.
The Iranian players stood stony-faced as their anthem rang out.
Iran has been shaken by two months of nationwide protests since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in morality police custody on Sept. 16. Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died three days after her arrest in Tehran over an alleged breach of the dress code for women, which includes the mandatory hijab headscarf.
NETHERLANDS V SENEGAL
Late goals by Cody Gakpo and Davy Klaassen on Monday gave the Netherlands a 2-0 victory over African champions Senegal as the three-time beaten finalists made their return to the FIFA World Cup stage.
With Senegal missing injured star man Sadio Mane and the Dutch without their main attacking threat Memphis Depay at kickoff, the Group A encounter in Doha looked set to end in a goalless draw.
However, with just 6 minutes remaining PSV Eindhoven forward Gakpo got up in front of Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy to head in a floated Frenkie de Jong cross from the left.
Substitute Klaassen then secured the victory deep in injury time, following up to score after Mendy had saved from Depay, who had also come off the bench.
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