Saudi Arabia’s victory over Argentina is the greatest upset in World Cup history, says data company

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Saudi Arabia fans celebrate during their shocking win over Argentina at the World Cup. Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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A dejected Lionel Messi reacts during Argentina’s defeat against Saudi Arabia.

Argentina has won the World Cup twice – in 1978 and 1986 – but at Qatar 2022 La Albiceleste wrote its name into the history books in an altogether different way.

According to sports data group Gracenote, Argentina’s 2-1 defeat by Saudi Arabia in their Group C match is the biggest upset in World Cup history.

Led by Lionel Messi, ranked third in the world, unbeaten for three years and among the favorites to win the 2022 tournament, many had expected Argentina to sweep aside Saudi Arabia with 48 places separating the two teams in the world rankings.

All the pre-match talk focused on Messi, one of the world’s greatest ever players who is likely playing his last World Cup.

The Argentina captain scored an early penalty to put his side in the lead, but two second-half goals from Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al Dawsari turned the game on its head.

Al Dawsari’s incredible winner from distance – and subsequent acrobatic celebration – will become one of the moments of this – or any – World Cup, and undoubtedly, in time, an “I-was-there” moment for fans.

According to Gracenote, the previous most surprising World Cup win was USA’s victory against England in 1950, in which the American team had a 9.5% chance of victory.

But Saudi Arabia’s chance of victory on Tuesday was estimated at 8.7%, which means the Green Falcons take over the number one spot.

Gracenote said it uses the company’s “proprietary football ranking system to identify the most shocking upsets over the course of the World Cup’s storied 92 years.”

Public Holiday

Saudi Arabia declares public holiday after stunning Argentina at World Cup

King Salman declared a public holiday in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to mark the national team’s stunning 2-1 upset over Lionel Messi‘s Argentina at the 2022 World Cup.

The news is a feather in the cap of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who recommended the royal order, state media said. Prince Mohammed was not seen at the match but had been front and centre at the tournament opening Sunday.

One of Prince Mohammed’s brothers, Prince Saud, posted pictures on Instagram showing the crown prince prostrating in thanks to God in a room where his other brother, Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz, was also present, shown holding a Saudi flag and standing next to a smiling crown prince.

It was also a sweet moment for host Qatar, facing intense criticism over human rights in the conservative Muslim country. Qatar’s emir draped the Saudi flag over his shoulders at the match. A Doha skyscraper flashed “Congratulations Greens.”

“Wow! I have all the feelings right now. We beat Argentina, one of the great teams!” said Saad from Riyadh, who is in Qatar for two weeks and was wearing a green Saudi Falcons scarf.

“Our guys played so well — everything went right inside the stadium today. It was amazing.”

On his fifth and final quest for the only major trophy to elude him, Messi, 35, scored a 10th-minute penalty in a dominant first-half display by Argentina on Tuesday during which he and Lautaro Martinez also had three goals disallowed for offside.

But Saudi Arabia, the second-lowest-ranked team in the tournament, after Ghana, threw caution to the wind at the start of the second half, charging at Argentina’s defence in front of a frenzied 88,012 crow

“Thank God, the players were up to it and we wiped them,” Saudi fan Abdelaziz al-Khwatem said. “They were relying on one player, we competed as a team and we wiped them, we are up to it. Watch out for Saudi Arabia because when it hits, it hurts.”

A Saudi television station showed a long line of cars with veiled women standing in their open sunroofs waving the Saudi flag. Celebrating children gave the victory sign.

The gravity of the victory will eventually sink in. Saudi Arabia is a team that had won only three World Cup matches in its history prior to the Tuesday game.

“One for the books,” Saudi Arabia coach Hervé Renard said. “Sometimes things are completely crazy.”

Goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais, who made two key saves late in the game to preserve the win at Lusail Stadium north of Doha, was almost subdued at the end, perhaps not grasping the magnitude of the upset.

“I am very happy about this result that we have been able to obtain against this very storied team,” Alowais said solemnly. “We have prepared ourselves. We were 100% ready and hopefully we will have better results in the future. I felt we were especially good in the last minutes because we secured our three points.”

Not in just the last minutes. Despite trailing 1-0 at half-time, Saleh Alshehri and Salem Aldawsari managed to score a goal each early in the second half.

Then came more than 50 minutes, including added time at the end of the match at the referee’s discretion, of holding one of the tournament favorites at bay.

“All the stars aligned for us,” said Renard, who won the African Cup of Nations as coach of Zambia in 2012 and then again with Ivory Coast in 2015.

Renard has also coached Angola and Morocco, which he guided to the 2018 World Cup in Russia. He took over Saudi Arabia in 2019.

“We made history for Saudi football,” Renard said. “It will stay forever. This is the most important. But we also need to think about looking forward because we still have two games that are very, very difficult for us.”

Renard said he asked his players to limit the celebration after the game to 20 minutes.

“That’s all,” he said. “But there are still two games — or more.”

They still must face Poland on Saturday and then take on Mexiconext Tuesday in Group C. Both are probably still favorites against Saudi Arabia despite the upset.

He also suggested another possible truth: Messi and Argentina probably underestimated Saudi Arabia, which is only No. 51 in the FIFA ranking. Argentina is No. 3.

“But you know the motivation is not like you are playing Brazil,” he added.

CNN/ESPN

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