Resilient Saudi Arabia stun Argentina

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Mexico, Poland play out 0-0 draw – Tunisia hold Denmark, Bale salvages draw for Wales

Saudi Arabia’s Firas Al-Buraikan (left), fights for the ball with Argentina’s Nicolas Tagliafi co during the World Cup group C soccer match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qa

LUSAIL, Qatar, Nov 22, (AP): Lionel Messi stood with his hands on his hips near the center circle, looking stone-faced as Saudi Arabia’s jubilant players ran in all directions around him after pulling off one of the biggest World Cup upsets ever against Argentina. The South American champions and one of the tournament favorites slumped to a 2-1 loss Tuesday against the second lowest-ranked team at the World Cup in a deflating start to Messi’s quest to win the one major title that has eluded him.

Asked how he felt after a painful start to his record fifth World Cup for Argentina, Messi said: “The truth? Dead. It’s a very hard blow because we did not expect to start in this way.” Saudi Arabia’s comeback joins the list of other major World Cup upsets: Cameroon’s 1-0 win over an Argentina team led by Diego Maradona in the opening game of the 1990 World Cup; Senegal’s 1-0 victory over defending champions France 1-0 in the 2002 tournament opener; or the United States beating England by the same score in 1950.

That summed up the pattern of a match that started with Messi giving Argentina the lead, calmly converting a penalty in the 10th minute for his 92nd international goal. It had all the makings of a routine win for the defending Copa America champions, who were on a 36-match unbeaten run – one short of the record in international soccer. Didn’t turn out that way. Goals by Saleh Alshehri and Salem Aldawsari in a five-minute span early in the second half gave the Saudis a landmark result in the first World Cup staged in the Middle East. Their previous biggest win was 1-0 over Belgium at the 1994 World Cup, secured by a storied individual goal by Saeed Al-Owairan. “All the stars aligned for us,” Saudi Arabia coach Herve Renard said. “We made history for Saudi football.”

The 35-year-old Messi, playing in his fifth – and likely his final – World Cup for Argentina, scratched the side of his head and shook hands with a Saudi coaching staff member after the final whistle. He walked toward the tunnel with a group of other Argentina players and looked despondent, an all-too-familiar scene for the seven-time world player of the year who has yet to win soccer’s ultimate prize. The unlikely victory by a team made up entirely of Saudi-based players was sealed by a somersault by Aldawsari, who brought down a high ball just inside the penalty area, spun his way past Nahuel Molina with the help of a ricochet, dribbled past Leandro Paredes and drove a powerful shot to the far corner in the 53rd.

A stunned Messi watched as Saudi Arabia’s green-clad fans, who had come over the Qatari border in their thousands, celebrated in disbelief in the stands. Saudi Arabia’s substitutes swarmed onto the field to congratulate Aldawsari, who sank to his knees after his post-goal acrobatics. Robert Lewandowski’s second-half penalty attempt was saved by Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, leaving Poland to settle for a 0-0 draw . It was Lewandowski’s first penalty miss for the national team. Poland’s all-time leading scorer with 76 goals remains without a World Cup goal. The Poland forward was awarded the penalty following a VAR review after Hector Moreno got hold of his shirt and pulled him down.

Ochoa, playing in his fifth World Cup, came up yelling in celebration after his stop, sending the crowd into chants of “Memo!” While Mexico dominated possession, Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny turned away all three of El Tri’s shots on goal. The scoreless draw was good for Argentina, which were upset by Saudi Arabia 2-1 in an earlier Group C match. The Argentines, led by Lionel Messi, were widely considered to be the favorites to advance.

Tunisia hold Denmark
Arab teams are making an impact at the first World Cup in the Middle East. Tunisia held European Championship semifinalist Denmark to a 0-0 draw Tuesday, three hours after Saudi Arabia beat Argentina in a shocking upset.”It’s amazing what (Saudi Arabia) did,” Tunisia defender Montassar Talbi said. “We watched a bit of the game in the dressing room. We saw the results. It gave us maybe a little power. We are proud of them.

For the Arab countries, too.” Before a stadium filled almost entirely with Tunisia’s red-clad supporters, midfielder Aïssa Laïdouni set the tone in the very first minute when he stripped emblematic Denmark playmaker Christian Eriksen of the ball with an aggressive sliding tackle – then stood up and pumped his arms menacingly, gesturing to the crowd to get even more fired up. Tunisia likely deserved more but an expert save shortly before halftime by goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel helped Denmark preserve the draw. Having already gone down to the grass after Tunisia broke through the defense, Schmeichel stuck his hand up to defl ect a shot from Issam Jebali, who plays his club ball in Denmark for Odense.

The match marked Eriksen’s return to a major tournament less than a year and a half after his cardiac arrest with Denmark at Euro 2020. Assuming his customary playmaker position, Eriksen produced a dangerous long-distance shot on goal in the second half that Tunisia goalkeeper Aymen Dahmen had to bat away. And on the ensuing corner, Denmark hit the post. A young United States team were nearing victory in its World Cup return.

Then Walker Zimmerman needlessly plowed into Gareth Bale. Bale converted the resulting penalty kick in the 82nd minute, giving Wales a 1-1 draw that left the Americans feeling frustrated and made their path to the knockout stage more precarious. Tim Weah put the Americans ahead in the 36th minute off a pass from Christian Pulisic, scoring in front a crowd that included his father, former FIFA Player of the Year and current Liberia President George Weah. Back in the World Cup after missing the 2018 tournament, the United States had only to close out the final minutes. But Brennan Johnson made a throw-in that Aaron Ramsey cut back to Bale, who had his back to the goal near the penalty spot. Zimmerman’s sliding tackle took out Bale’s left leg, and Qatari referee Abdulrahman Al-Jassim pointed to the penalty spot.

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