“The stars all aligned,” Saudi Arabia manager Herve Renard declared after the team’s shock win over Argentina. “Completely crazy.”
The South American giants entered the tournament as one of the strongest favourites, having been unbeaten in 36 games dating back to 2019.
But a sensational Saudi defensive performance shut down Argentina’s attack after Lionel Messi opened the scoring from the penalty spot, before Saudi Arabia hit back with two goals early in the second half.
The result will go down as one of the greatest World Cup upsets in the tournament’s history, leaving fans and pundits absolutely stunned.
It is a massive setback in Messi’s pursuit for a maiden World Cup title, in his fifth and likely final tournament.
Here’s what football experts around the world thought of the match – and why it’s not time to write them off.
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Football great Graeme Souness said on ITV: “Argentina never matched them. Historically you’d know they’d not be intimated. They were intimated today. The referee was allowing it to go. Join in the party, join in the physical encounter.
“They got rolled over by a very enthusiastic, aggressive, organised Saudi team. I am so disappointed in Argentina in the manner they lost the game.
“That was a shadow of any Argentina team I’ve seen. They were a shadow today.”
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Roy Keane said: “One of those when they’re hanging in there, on the ropes. They get a goal back and go on to win the game. But it’s a great reminder to anyone in the game of football: if you think can just turn up and depend on your quality to get you over the line then you’re mistaken.
“Argentina (was) really dreadful in the second half. Saudi Arabia, all credit to them. They stayed in the game, they competed. [For the second goal] there’s no aggression. There’s bodies there, you’ve got to go and attack the ball. They’ve lacked all composure. Look at (Angel) Di Maria, my god.
“They were just depending on their quality and even that wasn’t at it. This desire and fight wasn’t there.
“A huge setback for them. Huge.”
Former Manchester City defender Nedum Onouha told BBC Radio 5 Live: “We saw an Argentina side that were pushing and pushing but Saudi Arabia were comfortable in the way they were defending.
“At times we think football is predictable, and then things like that happens and you are reminded about why we love football.
“As long as you are committed and take the opportunities you have, anything is possible.”
Ex-England midfielder Joe Cole said on ITV: “That winning goal will inspire a generation. This is the World Cup started. This is an unbelievable result.”
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New York Times journalist Tariq Panja told BBC Radio 5 Live: “I’ve just spoken to one and asked what will this result mean for these players. He said, ‘They will get everything’. That means quite a lot when you’re talking about Saudi Arabia.
“The Saudis are the nearest country to the World Cup and a lot just drive over. It was three hours for one fan, 90 minutes for another fan.
“They’ve got a really big football culture – I don’t think we realise that in Europe. The fandom is certainly there and it was there in full effect today. They completely drowned out the Argentina fans.”
Of course, Saudi Arabia’s king already declared the day afterwards would be a national public holiday, just the start of the celebrations and tributes that are set to flow in the players’ honour.
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South American football journalist Tim Vickery told Sky Sports News: “But it ended up being deserved, this is not one of those fluke underdog wins and it is one of the all-time great World Cup results. There was a worry in Argentina that things had been going too well and that things would go wrong when they mattered most, but no one imagined it going wrong today.”
Vickery also told BBC Radio 5 Live: “People would have needed to get up early for this game in Argentina, around 7am. What a cruel thing to do to them over breakfast.
“They lose their structure when they went behind. They looked like more of the shambolic Argentina sides of old where Lionel Messi was dropping deep to get the ball.”
But he won’t ‘count them out’ despite the defeat.
He said: “Argentina have got some regrouping today but I wouldn’t count them out yet.
“What are they going to do next? They’ll have to dig deep.”
Former Argentina defender Pablo Zabaleta told BBC One: “Because many people were saying Argentina would be favourites to win the World Cup because of 36 games unbeaten and all that, there were a lot of expectations.
“That’s why I hate people saying that – because this is the World Cup, you cannot really underestimate any team, this is the greatest competition in football.
“Can we still win it? Of course. We lost the first game in 1990 against Cameroon and then we reached the final so there is still a long way to go.”
It echoes what Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said after the match: “Prior to the match we were anointed as favourites. But this sort of stuff can happen in a World Cup.”
It can, but it’s extremely rare. All that matters now is what happens next.
Argentina striker Lautaro Martinez said: “This hurts a lot. We were dreaming of starting the World Cup with a win.
“But it’s happened and now we have to train and think forward.
“We lost this game because of our own mistakes, most of all in the second half. There are details that make a difference and we need to correct our mistakes.”
If they can’t do that – and soon – their World Cup will be over, and Messi may never get another chance to achieve his greatest ambition.
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