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Saudi Arabia shock Argentina and Messi in one of biggest World Cup upsets ever | World News

Saudi Arabia have beaten Argentina 2-1 to record one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history.

Lionel Messi had given Argentina an early lead against the middle eastern nation with a 10th-minute penalty.

The South Americans then had three goals chalked off for offside in the following 35 minutes, suggesting a heavy defeat for Saudi Arabia was likely.

Saudi Arabia fans celebrate their victory. Pic: AP
Image:
Saudi Arabia fans celebrate their victory. Pic: AP

But two goals in five minutes at the start of the second half turned the game on its head for a side that bookies were offering odds of 500-1 to win the World Cup before the tournament began.

Saudi had to hang on for around 14 minutes’ of added time before the referee blew the whistle for full-time, sparking delirious celebrations among their players and supporters in the Lusail Stadium.

The match was played in an extraordinary atmosphere, with Argentina’s traditionally raucous following matched by the thousands of Saudis who had crossed the border to cheer on their team.

Argentina's Lionel Messi leaves the pitch as the final whistle goes, as Saudi Arabia players celebrate
Image:
Argentina’s Lionel Messi leaves the pitch at the final whistle, as Saudi Arabia players celebrate. Pic: AP

“Our team fulfils our dreams!” and “Where is Messi? We beat him!”, the green-clad Saudi fans chanted, greeting every clearance from their defence with a deafening roar.

While Argentina dominated possession and forced saves from Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais, they failed to exert sustained pressure on the side ranked second lowest in the tournament, after Ghana.

Argentina were second favourites to lift the trophy before a ball had been kicked, having gone 36 matches unbeaten.

Their last defeat came three years ago, to Brazil.

While Saudi Arabian fans rejoiced, the result will revive concerns around so-called sportswashing – which the country’s rulers have been accused of along with host nation Qatar.

Sportswashing is the practice of using sport to improve the reputation of entities including states accused of wrongdoing.

Argentina's Lionel Messi reacts as Saudi Arabia celebratie their first goal. Pic: AP
Image:
Argentina’s Lionel Messi reacts as Saudi Arabia celebrate their first goal. Pic: AP

Saudi is widely seen to have a dreadful human rights record, with major restrictions on freedom of expression and the rights of women and migrants.

In a statement released shortly before the game kicked off, a UN Human Rights office spokesperson said 17 men had been executed in Saudi Arabia since 10 November.

The spokesperson described the figure as “deeply regrettable”.

According to the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, 67 executions took place in the nation in 2021, more than double the previous year’s total.

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