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A Messi Problem: The five reasons Saudi Arabia humiliated Argentina in biggest World Cup upset

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04:23 PM

Analysis

How Saudi Arabia ended Argentina – and Messi’s – magical run

Salem Al-Dawsari's wonder-strike sealed a triumphant win for Saudi Arabia - Liu Lu/Getty Images

Salem Al-Dawsari’s wonder-strike sealed a triumphant win for Saudi Arabia – Liu Lu/Getty Images

By Tom Morgan

As the final whistle blew, a disbelieving Lionel Messi stood hands on hips in the centre circle as Saudi Arabian’s band of 11 miracle workers collapsed in floods of tears.

Only afterwards did it emerge that the same players in green had been weeping and praying before kick off too – simply at the magnitude of playing against the great Argentina.
How their prayers were answered.

This controversial nation, blighted by an even worse human rights records even than the tournament hosts, need not have bought Newcastle. A much greater feat of sportswashing would be achieved just six hours down the sandy roads from Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia's celebrations came in stark contrast to Argentina's numb bemusement following their defeat - Liu Lu/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia’s celebrations came in stark contrast to Argentina’s numb bemusement following their defeat – Liu Lu/Getty Images

Salem Al Dawsari, a 31-year-old whose £1m transfer value is dwarfed by Messi’s weekly pay packet, served up the moment that will live through the generations, skipping past his marker to strike a curling second half winner from 18 yards. 

Raucous celebrations – kick-starting this surreal tournament into pulsating life – were then secured thanks to a remarkable goalkeeping performance from Mohammed Alowais.

“Praise be to god the merciful,” was his unconventional explanation immediately afterwards. “The stars all aligned,” added the team’s manager Herve Renard. “Completely crazy.”

But divine intervention or not, there are several key elements in this anatomy of Argentina’s astonishing first defeat in 36 matches:

The Messi problem

There were more than 88,000 packed inside Lusail Stadium – and up to half of them appeared to have No 10 on their backs. But this tournament – a potential last dance for the world’s greatest footballer – got off to a stumbling slow waltz.

All eyes were on him, but he barely broke out of a stroll in the first half. He had aimed a tame left footed effort at the soon-to-be man-of-match Alowais after a minute, but then opened the scoring after ten minutes in relatively fortunate circumstances.

A harshly awarded penalty allowed Messi to stroke home left-footed, but, aside from a disallowed goal and one probing ball, he was thoroughly underwhelming.

Messi underwhelmed, despite putting Argentina on the scoreboard - PressFocus/Getty Images

Messi underwhelmed, despite putting Argentina on the scoreboard – PressFocus/Getty Images

The Saudis making up about a quarter of the crowd delighted in his tepid efforts. A cheer almost as loud as their two goals erupted when he ballooned an effort over.

After the match, Messi – who is on the Saudi payroll – was a miserable sight trudging past the mix zone. One journalist asked “as an ambassador for Saudi Arabia, how important do you think this was?” Needless to say, he didn’t answer.

Argentina losing their shape in a rigid 4-4-2

This team were many favourites for the tournament largely thanks to their new-found physicality. After woeful defending in Russia in 2018, this new line up has muscle to match its flair in attack.

But in a match when the hardest tackles were flying in from their plucky opponents, the system looked too unflexable to adapt. The greatest issue of all was the failure to get the back to Messi in the final third due to their opponents playing such a tightly-packed and disciplined back line.

The Saudis played their hand perfectly as Argentina were caught offside eight times in the first half. “We knew that Saudi Arabia is a team with good players, that they move the ball well and that they push [forward] the [defensive] line a lot,” the captain said afterwards.

“We worked on it, but we rushed a bit. We have to go back to the base of who we are. We have to think about what’s next.”

End of the Qatari-Saudi feud

The 30,000 Saudis in the crowd were outumbered by Argentinians, who almost always travel in the biggest numbers than any other nation.

But this felt like a raucous home fixture thank to the ear-piercing din from behind the goal for most of the match. Those that travelled across the border – including the Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman – were able to do so thanks to a resolution in January last year to end the nastiest of neighbourly spats between the pair.

Saudi Arabia could celebrate their victory against a sea of green and white - Lionel Hahn/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia could celebrate their victory against a sea of green and white – Lionel Hahn/Getty Images

Football is huge in Saudi, as illustrated by the country’s long pursuit of Newcastle. Bin Salman sees the sport as a key part of his diversification plan to move the country away from dwindling oil stocks.

The enthusiasm shown by the Saudis, many in traditional robes, from the first whistle here was in dramatic contrast with a largely tepid atmosphere for Qatar’s opening match against Ecuador.

Renard, the nation’s French coach, said the home-like atmosphere had been critical. “We need more, more, more to come over for the next games,” he added.

The heavy weight of history

In one way this was a match when Messi finally emulated Maradona – his generation had suffered a fate almost as embarrassing in slipping to Cameroon in 1990.

The Saudi Arabian defeat is far worse, but a draw against Iceland and a defeat to Nigeria in 2018 again exposed a fragility, such is the desperation to get their hands on the World Cup again.

Saudi, on the other hand, summoned the spirit of 1994, when their compatriots beat Belgium and Morocco to reach the last 16. Saudi knew an apparent mismatch in talents could be turned to their advantage.

Saudi Arabia's head coach Herve Renard suggested that Argentina, and Messi, had underestimated his team - Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia’s head coach Herve Renard suggested that Argentina, and Messi, had underestimated his team – Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

“Sometimes your opponent is not at his best motivation,” Renard said. “This is normal.

“It’s also happened to us sometimes when we play a lower team. This is sometimes what the people do not understand.

“Do you imagine Lionel Messi [is highly motivated] against Saudi Arabia? Of course he will say ‘we need to start very well’ but you know motivation is not like they play Brazil. This is normal, this is part of football.”

Sheer will to win

There were audible gasps throughout the stadium as Yasir Al Shahrani took a knee to the head from Al Owais. His teammates looked concerned as medics stretchered him off. It was a typical show of togetherness from a side putting it all on the line. Saleh Al Shehri and Salem Al Dawsari scored a quickfire double soon after the restart to put Renard’s men ahead. But the true heroes of the day were the salmon-like leaps of Mohammed Al Owais and the four all-action defenders in front of him.

01:55 PM

Report

Saudi Arabia make World Cup history and shatter Argentina’s unbeaten run

By Associated Press

Saudi Arabia's Saleh Al-Shehri celebrates scoring their first goal with Feras Al Brikan - REUTERS/Annegret Hilse

Saudi Arabia’s Saleh Al-Shehri celebrates scoring their first goal with Feras Al Brikan – REUTERS/Annegret Hilse

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 scoring one of the biggest World Cup upsets ever against Argentina.

The South American champion and one of the tournament favourites slumped to a 2-1 loss against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, in a deflating start to Messi’s quest to win the one major title that has eluded him.

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 titleholder France 1-0 in the 2002 tournament opener or the United States beating England by the same score in 1950.

“Prior to the match we were anointed as favorites,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said. “But this sort of stuff can happen in a World Cup.”

Messi gave Argentina the lead in the 10th minute with a coolly dispatched penalty and the match had the makings of a routine win for the defending Copa America champion, which were on a 36-match unbeaten run.

But 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. The Saudis’ previous biggest win was 1-0 over Belgium at the 1994 World Cup.

Saudi Arabia's Saleh Al-Shehri scores their first goa - REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

Saudi Arabia’s Saleh Al-Shehri scores their first goa – REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

Salem Al-Dawsari of Saudi Arabia scores his team's second goal past goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez of Arg - GETTY IMAGES/Hannah McKay

Salem Al-Dawsari of Saudi Arabia scores his team’s second goal past goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez of Arg – GETTY IMAGES/Hannah McKay

“All the stars aligned for us,” Saudi Arabia’s 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 one of the best players ever who is yet to win soccer’s ultimate prize.

“We screwed it up in the second half,” Argentina striker Lautaro Martinez said. “Small details make a difference. We have to fix them.”

The unlikely victory was sealed by a somersault by Aldawsari, who brought down a high ball just inside the penalty area, spun Nahuel Molina with the help of a ricochet, jinked past Leandro Paredes and drove a powerful shot to the far corner in the 53rd.

A stunned Messi watched as green-clad fans from Saudi Arabia, Qatar’s neighbor, celebrated in disbelief in the stands. Saudi Arabia’s substitutes swarmed onto the field.

Lionel Messi of Argentina looks dejected during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group C match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia - GETTY IMAGES/Harry Langer

Lionel Messi of Argentina looks dejected during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group C match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia – GETTY IMAGES/Harry Langer

Messi put Argentina ahead from the penalty spot after the video assistant referee told the referee to take a look at a jersey grab by Saud Abdulhamid on Paredes.

Saudi Arabia didn’t have a shot on goal in the first half and looked like conceding more by playing with a high line that resulted in Argentina getting in behind in the Saudi defense with ease.

The 48th-minute equalizer came from Saudi Arabia’s first attempt on target, with Alshehri finding the far corner with an angled finish that went through the legs of defender Cristian Romero and beyond the dive of goalkeeper Emi Martinez.

Goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais made two key saves late in the game to preserve the win.

Argentina plays Mexico in its second Group C match on Saturday.

01:43 PM

Lionel Scaloni now a man under pressure

“Prior to the match we were anointed as favorites,” Argentina coach Scaloni said. “But this sort of stuff can happen in a World Cup.”

Lionel Scaloni, Head Coach of Argentina, speaks to the media - GETTY IMAGES/Hector Vivas

Lionel Scaloni, Head Coach of Argentina, speaks to the media – GETTY IMAGES/Hector Vivas

01:34 PM

Sergio Aguero was not allowed in to Argentina’s training camp

“I haven’t seen the Argentina team yet. Let’s see what happens, everything is a bit weird,” Aguero said on a YouTube live stream. “Supposedly you need to have a credential to get in… It sounds weird that it takes three to four days to arrange.

“If they don’t want me to go, it’s okay, but tell me to my face,” Aguero added. “I’ve never hurt anyone, I’ve always behaved well. Maybe there are people from inside that didn’t like something that I have said. I don’t even remember.”

By Reuters

01:31 PM

The tournament needed an atmosphere like this

The entire game was played in an extraordinary atmosphere at the Lusail Stadium, with Argentina’s traditionally massive and raucous following matched by the thousands of Saudis who had come over the border to cheer on their team.

“Our team fulfils our dreams!” and “Where is Messi? We beat him!”, the green-clad Saudis chanted over and over in the Lusail Stadium, on their feet and greeting every clearance from their defence with a deafening roar.

Messi incidentally, is paid to be an ambassador for the Kingdom

Saudi Arabian supporters celebrate following the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group C match - GETTY IMAGES/Alex Livesey

Saudi Arabian supporters celebrate following the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group C match – GETTY IMAGES/Alex Livesey

01:08 PM

Herve Renard’s motivational tactics

Midfielder Abdulelah Al-Malki said the Saudis were fired up like never before by their coach Herve Renard.

“Renard made us cry with the motivation before the match and stoked us up during halftime,” he said, affectionately calling the Frenchman “crazy”.

Renard was once sacked by Cambridge United.

Herve Renard, Head Coach of Saudi Arabia, gives their team instructions during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - GETTY IMAGES

Herve Renard, Head Coach of Saudi Arabia, gives their team instructions during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 – GETTY IMAGES

01:00 PM

No doubt this was the loudest moment at the World Cup so far

Saudi Arabia's Salem Al-Dawsari, second left, celebrates after scoring his side's second goal - AP/Ricardo Mazalan

Saudi Arabia’s Salem Al-Dawsari, second left, celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal – AP/Ricardo Mazalan

12:58 PM

It wasn’t a completely fruitless day for Messi

12:47 PM

That is the biggest World Cup shock according to data

Analysis by Nielsen’s Gracenote gave Saudi Arabia an 8.7 per cent chance of beating Argentina, making it the biggest upset in World Cup history. By their calculations, USA had a 9.5 per cent chance of beating England at the 1950 World Cup.

Third on their rankings is Switzerland 1 Spain 0 in the 2010 group stage, when Spain went on to lift the trophy. So all is not lost for Argentina.

12:38 PM

Lautaro Martinez’s reaction

“This hurts a lot. We were dreaming of starting the World Cup with a win,” said Messi’s strike partner. “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.”

12:36 PM

Contrasting emotions

Saudi Arabia players celebrate after the match - REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

Saudi Arabia players celebrate after the match – REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

Argentina's Lionel Messi stands on the pitch disappointed during the World Cup group C soccer match - AP

Argentina’s Lionel Messi stands on the pitch disappointed during the World Cup group C soccer match – AP

12:34 PM

On to game two of four…

Christian Eriksen starts for Denmark against Tunisia just 16 months after suffering an on-pitch cardiac arrest at the Euros. Follow the live build-up to that game here.

12:27 PM

Tom Morgan’s reaction from inside the stadium

12:24 PM

Some reaction from pundits

Graeme Souness, visibly shocked, said: “In my time in football when I’ve played against Argentinians I never ever got an easy encounter – that was a shadow of any Argentinian side I’ve ever seen, they were a shadow today.”

Roy Keane told viewers: “They weren’t as a team today – it’s a huge setback for them, huge.”

Former Chelsea midfielder Joe Cole added: “Argentina came into this expecting to win, thirty six games unbeaten. This is a huge test now. Lionel Scaloni’s got to lift that group of players and find a way of getting them back to what we expect – aggressive, quality – it’s a huge ask for him.”

12:23 PM

That results puts England win into some perspective

‘It was only Iran’ rings slightly hollow now. Early days, but England have delivered the most convincing performance of any of the nations considered contenders. Let’s see how France look later this evening.

12:22 PM

How did Saudi Arabia manage that?

They surprised Argentina by squeezing and hounding them in midfield with fantastic intensity, when everyone was expected them to sit back and defend deep.

It came with risks – they survived three narrow offside calls in the first half – but it stopped Argentina from building any rhythm. You expected De Paul and Paredes to show a lot more composure to keep the ball under pressure.

When you think about it, the high line makes some sense: Argentina do not have blistering pace with Lautaro Martinez and Messi through the middle.

12:15 PM

Does Messi feel his last chance slipping away?

Lionel Messi reacts during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group C football match - AFP/JUAN MABROMATA

Lionel Messi reacts during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group C football match – AFP/JUAN MABROMATA

12:14 PM

Saudi celebrations the scene of the tournament so far

Saudi Arabia players celebrate the 2-1 win during the FIFA World Cup - GETTY IMAGES/Clive Brunskill

Saudi Arabia players celebrate the 2-1 win during the FIFA World Cup – GETTY IMAGES/Clive Brunskill

 Lionel Messi of Argentina (R) and other players react after the FIFA World Cup 2022 group C soccer match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia - SHUTTERSTOCK

Lionel Messi of Argentina (R) and other players react after the FIFA World Cup 2022 group C soccer match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia – SHUTTERSTOCK

Saudi Arabia players celebrate the 2-1 win during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group C match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia - GETTY IMAGES/Matthias Hangst

Saudi Arabia players celebrate the 2-1 win during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group C match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia – GETTY IMAGES/Matthias Hangst

12:09 PM

FT: Argentina 1 Saudi Arabia 2

After 104 minutes of football, the 2022 World Cup has its first shock! And it is a shock worthy of comparison to any upset in the history of the competition.

Argentina’s 36-match unbeaten run broken by Saudi Arabia, who had only won one World Cup match before today.

Their intensity and work rate proved awkward all game. Al Shehri and Al Dawsari’s finishes were excellent and Al Tambakti at the back was a colossus.

Huge atmosphere in the stadium.

12:06 PM

103 minutes

There is still time for one more Argentina attack in the 113th minute of injury time, but Saudi defend stoutly on the edge of their box. The Saudi bench cannot believe this game is still going.

12:05 PM

101 minutes

Di Maria trying to make things happen, but his attempt at a chipped through ball is too strong. That is surely time up. Argentina now cannot afford a slip up against Poland or Mexico.

12:04 PM

99 minutes

We are back under way, could still be a few minutes left after that head injury. Martinez brings the ball down in the box and his deflected shot wins a corner. Al Dawsari then heads behind for another Argentina corner.

It’s clear, but Di Maria curls in a lovely cross towards Alvarez at the back post but Al Owais is equal to his header.

One for the cameras with the dive, but who can blame him.

12:02 PM

98 minutes

Saudi are making the change, Al Shahrani is going to come off. Al Burayk will replace him.

The positive news is that Al Shahrani is giving a thumps up from the stretcher.

12:00 PM

96 minutes

Saudi Arabia have been incredibly solid at the back, but the goalkeeper Al Owais is getting himself involved when he does not need to.

He flies out for a cross and clatters Al Shahrani, flush in the face with a knee. The goalkeeper instantly calls for the medical team and a stretcher.

This is a serious injury rather than a time wasting tactic. It looks like Al Shahrani is moving, but quite right that no chances are taken.

There will be more than the eight added minutes played.

11:56 AM

93 minutes

Al Owais made a fuss of that Otamendi challenge to waste some time, and the restart enables Saudi Arabia to move up the pitch and win a corner. They take their time over it and take a short one, but Argentina have the ball back thanks to an offside flag.

11:55 AM

EIGHT minutes of added time

It’s all going on in the Saudi Arabia penalty area! Al Owais came for a cross under pressure from Otamendi but flapped, before Alvarez’s hooked shot was cleared off the line. It turns out Otamendi was offside and Saudi Arabia have a free-kick.

11:54 AM

89 minutes

Di Maria drives infield from the right and wins a free-kick. Messi over it once again, but this is in more of a crossing position than the previous one. Saudi Arabia stand firm again and deal with the cross, yet again Al Tambakt is there to make the block. He has been immense.

11:52 AM

Tom Morgan reports from the Lusail Stadium

Can’t emphasise enough how good the atmosphere is at this World Cup classic. More than 88,000 here and it feels like double. So much tension and drama. Messi now getting massive boos from the Saudis every time he touches the ball. A roar almost as loud as a goal at his latest underwhelming effort – a wayward freekick – flew over.

11:51 AM

87 minutes

We could be in for another mammoth period of additional time because Al Brikan went down and stayed down with an injury.

Superb defending once again from Al Tambakti, this time to hook away a Di Maria low cross which was heading for Martinez.

As things stand, Argentina do not look likely.

11:48 AM

84 minutes

Chance for Messi! Di Maria picked him out with a curling cross to the back post, but there was not enough power behind the header and it was a simple save for Al Owais. Otamendi tries to force a pass forward, and it runs out for a goal kick. Time running out.

11:45 AM

81 minutes

Abdulhamid booked for a rather agricultural tackle. Argentina have been disrupted by Saudi Arabia’s physicality both fair and foul.

Argentina mount another attack through Acuna down the left, but his cross was aimless and it was easy for Al Owais to claim.

11:43 AM

79 minutes

That looked very soft indeed, but Messi wins Argentina free-kick in shooting range, just right of centre. Ideally placed for his left foot, but it looked like he just ran into the defender.

Big moment for both teams, this. Saudi fans can breathe easily…that was high, wide and handsome from Messi. Immensely disappointing.

Lionel Messi of Argentina shows dejection during the FIFA World Cup - GETTY IMAGES/Matthias Hangst

Lionel Messi of Argentina shows dejection during the FIFA World Cup – GETTY IMAGES/Matthias Hangst

11:40 AM

77 minutes

The clock is ticking for Argentina, this is getting very hairy for them. The Saudi fans are starting with the ‘Ole, Ole, Ole’ chant. Is it going to be Messi to the rescue? The team performance has not been convincing, even in the first half when they had the lead.

11:39 AM

75 minutes

More good goalkeeping from Al Owais to rush out of his area and sweep up behind that high line, getting there before Lautaro Martinez. The Saudi No 1 is having a better day than his opposite number Emi Martinez.

Salem Al-Dawsari of Saudi Arabia scores his team's second goal - GETTY IMAGES/Hannah McKay

Salem Al-Dawsari of Saudi Arabia scores his team’s second goal – GETTY IMAGES/Hannah McKay

11:36 AM

72 minutes

Cute from Messi to poke a ball through to Di Maria on the right side of the box, but his shot from a tight angle was always comfortable for Al Owais in the Saudi goal. Moments earlier, another cross flashed across the box. Plenty of time left for Argentina, but they do look slightly panicked and frenetic.

11:33 AM

68 minutes

Messi tries to slip Tagliafico in on the left but Al Brikan tracked back diligently to cut it out. That pass has been on all game with this high line Saudi Arabia are playing, but they have managed to walk the tightrope so far. That was Tagliafico’s final action of the game, Acuna replaces him. Argentina have made four changes now.

11:33 AM

68 minutes

Messi tries to slip Tagliafico in on the left but Al Brikan tracked back diligently to cut it out. That pass has been on all game with this high line Saudi Arabia are playing, but they have managed to walk the tightrope so far.

11:28 AM

65 minutes

Messi tries to take a quick free kick but the referee pulls it back. Argentina have 30 minutes or more left here, if the stoppage time at this tournament is anything to go by. They need to calm down and play properly rather than hurling the ball forward aimlessly. Another good interception from Al Tambakti in the Saudi box.

11:26 AM

62 minutes

Messi looks to thread a through ball towards Alvarez but another timely Saudi interception cuts it out. Di Maria delivers a wicked cross through the six-yard area, and from the second-phase of the corner the ball bounces off Lisandro Martinez’s knee and Al Owais scrambles across his goal to palm away. Is this the start of the siege?

11:24 AM

60 minutes

Scaloni has gone to his bench and taken drastic action: Romero, Parades and Gomez off; Lisandro Martinez, Alvarez and Fernandez off. Was Romero fully fit? He did not look to moving well for the first Saudi Arabia goal.

Saudi Arabia's Saleh Al-Shehri celebrates scoring their first goal with Feras Al Brikan - REUTERS/Annegret Hilse

Saudi Arabia’s Saleh Al-Shehri celebrates scoring their first goal with Feras Al Brikan – REUTERS/Annegret Hilse

11:23 AM

What scenes at the Lusail Stadium

Salem Al-Dawsari of Saudi Arabia celebrates after scoring their team's second goal - GETTY IMAGES

Salem Al-Dawsari of Saudi Arabia celebrates after scoring their team’s second goal – GETTY IMAGES

Saudi Arabia's Saleh Al-Shehri celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates - REUTERS/Peter Cziborra

Saudi Arabia’s Saleh Al-Shehri celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates – REUTERS/Peter Cziborra

 Salem Al-Dawsari of Saudi Arabia celebrates after scoring their team's second goal - Getty Images/Clive Brunskill

Salem Al-Dawsari of Saudi Arabia celebrates after scoring their team’s second goal – Getty Images/Clive Brunskill

11:20 AM

57 minutes

What a challenge from Al Tambakti when Messi looked ready to pull the trigger in the box. The Saudi defender jumps to his defeat and celebrates the sliding tackle like a goal, high-fiving his team-mates.

Julian Alvarez is about to come on for Argentina.

11:18 AM

GOOOOAAALLL! Saudi Arabia lead Argentina!

Are we about to witness one of the great World Cup shocks?

That was a brilliant piece of individual skill from Al Dawsari, plucking the ball out of the sky near the left corner of the box, twisting and turning, before bending a shot into the far top corner. Martinez got a hand to it, but there was simply too much power.

The celebrations were frenzied, and now Argentina are in a deep, deep hole.

11:14 AM

51 minutes

The Saudi fans in the stadium are absolutely raucous, and Argentina are looking shaky at the back. They had only conceded three goals in their previous 15 before this meeting. They need to increase the level of quality urgently.

11:12 AM

GOOOOAAALL! Saudi Arabia are level

Well, well, that’s a turn up for the books. Paredes poked the ball forward in midfield, and Messi turned the wrong way and was dispossessed.

It was a long punt forward to Al Shehri, who was just too quick for Romero and his shot across goal crept under the defender’s attempt at a block and right into the far corner.

Martinez with no chance. Argentina should have dealt with the first ball forward.

11:10 AM

Who did you rate in that first half?

Use our live player ratings tool here, and see how your assessment compares with other readers.

11:09 AM

We’re back under way

Argentina kick off. Lee Dixon says Roy Keane and Graeme Souness are still going at it on the ITV platform about the penalty.

11:08 AM

The players are back out

No changes from Argentina, but they will want to turn the screw after a somewhat laboured first half.

11:04 AM

The automated offside call that led to Messi’s goal being chalked off

Messi's disallowed goal vs ITV - ITV

Messi’s disallowed goal vs ITV – ITV

11:02 AM

Keane and Souness arguing about the Argentina penalty

Keane believes the directive to punish shirt-pulling in the box will encourage diving, Souness tells him his opinion his opinion is irrelevant when it comes to the laws of the game.

“Just listen and you might learn something.”

Argentina's penalty vs Saudi Arabia - ITV

Argentina’s penalty vs Saudi Arabia – ITV

10:54 AM

HT: Argentina 1 Saudi Arabia 0

Scaloni’s team will be satisfied with their lead, and they had the ball in the net a further three times only to be denied by some close offside calls.

In truth, that’s a slightly flattering summation of their 45 minutes’ work. I expected De Paul and Paredes to take more of a grip of the game in midfield, and their threat has been sporadic.

Some of that is down to Saudi Arabia’s bold approach, trying to close Argentina down high and running the risk of squeezing their defence up the pitch. Will that structure fall apart as legs tire?

10:50 AM

45 minutes+4

Saudi Arabia’s captain Al Faraj has been forced off with that knock. Al Abid comes on to replace him just before half time. He must have been in some pain to come off so soon before the break.

10:48 AM

45 minutes+2

De Paul with a smart off the ball run in behind the Saudi defence, but there was no target in the six-yard box for him. He looked for the pull back to Messi who had checked his run but it was cut out.

10:46 AM

45 minutes

Romero did well not to stick a leg out in the penalty area with Al Dawsari looking momentarily dangerous.

There will be FIVE minutes of stoppage time. The theme of the tournament continues.

10:43 AM

42 minutes

That was one of Argentina’s best attacks of the game. Lovely reverse through ball from the left foot of Di Maria, and Cristian Romero had bombed forward to be an extra man in the penalty spot. He failed to find a blue and white shirt with his pull back. Argentina win a corner, and then a free-kick after Gomez is clipped.

The delivery popped out to the edge of the box but De Paul approached the strike with no conviction, and was always leaning back.

10:40 AM

38 minutes

Worrying moments for Saudi Arabia with Al Faraj down receiving some treatment. Looks a problem with his shin, so possibly just an impact injury. After some magic spray, he is back on his feet. Argentina left-back Tagliafico caught him. Martinez works back into midfield a wins a free-kick.

10:37 AM

35 minutes

Martinez in behind the Saudi defence, and produced a delicious dummy to go around Al Owais and score but for the third time in this half an offside flag denies Argentina. Are Saudi Arabia using the technology to clever effect or simply getting away with it?

10:34 AM

33 minutes

Saudi Arabia first to another loose ball in midfield, better opposition may have punished Argentina’s sloppiness in this first 45 minutes. The disease appears to have spread to Messi, who clumps a pass out of play when trying to spread it left to Gomez.

10:32 AM

30 minutes

Saudi Arabia have a corner, to the delight of their fans in the stadium. Taken short, and the delivery is hacked away from Otamendi. A really clumsy tackle from De Paul concedes a free-kick to the left of the penalty area, which is another chance for the underdogs to whip a ball into the box. Emi Martinez claims.

10:30 AM

NO GOAL! The technology calls that offside

The still image suggested Lautaro Martinez was onside, but evidently not. Argentina have had the ball in the net three times, but just have the one goal.

Argentina's Lautaro Martinez scores a goal before it was disallowed for offsid - REUTERS/HANNAH MCKAY

Argentina’s Lautaro Martinez scores a goal before it was disallowed for offsid – REUTERS/HANNAH MCKAY

10:29 AM

GOOOOAAAL! Martinez makes it two

Argentina have not been especially fluent, but they are so dangerous when do get into the final third.

That Saudi high line undone again. Messi was offside, but Martinez was running from deep and well onside, and he dinked the ball over the goalkeeper.

10:28 AM

25 minutes

De Paul robbed of possession in his own half, but Otamendi pounces on the loose ball and wins a foul.

Messi drops deep into midfield to get some touches of the ball. Saudi Arabia’s pressing is doing a good job of stopping Argentina from playing through the middle of the pitch. They have been far more positive than Iran yesterday.

10:24 AM

22 minutes

The offside flag spares Saudi Arabia after Messi has the ball in the net! The semi-automated offside system confirms the decision quickly. There was acres of space behind the high line for Messi to break into, but he went too soon. Shame, as it was a typically stylish finish.

Lionel Messi (R) of Argentina scores an offside goal during the FIFA World Cup 2022 group C soccer match - SHUTTERSTOCK/Mohamed Messara

Lionel Messi (R) of Argentina scores an offside goal during the FIFA World Cup 2022 group C soccer match – SHUTTERSTOCK/Mohamed Messara

10:22 AM

20 minutes

Paredes spreads play out to Gomez on the left, but his attempt to chop inside and curl towards the top corner was always rising. Another offside flag thwarts an Argentina attack.

Taking a soft lead has not done Argentina any favours, really. They are struggling for rhythm and have not been able to sustain attacks and pressure.

10:20 AM

18 minutes

Messi scoops a pass over the top of the Saudi defence but Martinez was well offside. In the minutes prior to that, Saudi Arabia pinched the ball off Argentina in midfield a couple of times, but failed to carve out a clear cut chance. There has been a pleasing intensity to the underdogs so far, they just need to cool down when win the ball back.

10:17 AM

The latest from Tom Morgan at the Lusail Stadium

Proper ear-peircing atmposphere here post kick off  at the vast Lusail Stadium. And despite Messimania, the biggest roar is coming from the Saudis.  It’s 95 per cent full and vast majority in either sky blue or green. What an atmosphere. Messi’s name got read out earlier and some boos for him from opposition. They obviously haven’t heard: he’s their national tourism ambassador.

10:16 AM

15 minutes

Argentina are building play with a flat back four, stretched across the pitch. Paredes is isolated in the centre circle, playing as a lone midfielder almost, with De Paul pushed very high alongside the attackers. Pretty much a 4-1-5 shape when they have the ball. Roars from the Saudi fans as they whip a free kick into the box but Argentina clear.

10:13 AM

12 minutes

That should settle any opening game nerves for Argentina. It was quite difficult to spot the precise infringement on the replays, but officials have been told to clamp down on pushing and shoving at set-pieces. That and adding on the right amount of stoppage time appear to be the two main tournament directives.

10:11 AM

Messi scores!

He sits the goalkeeper down on his backside and rolls the ball into the empty side of the goal. Good news for anyone invested in Messi winning the golden boot. You fancy he has the chance to add another goal or two in this game.

10:10 AM

Argentina penalty!

The referee points to the spot. It makes the decision not to award Harry Maguire and England a penalty yesterday all the stranger. Messi to step up and take it.

10:09 AM

7 minutes

Argentina with another set-piece opportunity, this time Messi is over the free-kick to the left of the penalty area.

But hold on…the referee is running across to the touchline to check the Var monitor. This could be a penalty, Abdulhamid with a handful of Otamendi’s shirt. We know what happens when they go over to the screen…

Saudi Arabia players complain and look confused as to why a penalty was awarded - GETTY IMAGES

Saudi Arabia players complain and look confused as to why a penalty was awarded – GETTY IMAGES

10:07 AM

5 minutes

Saudi are trying to be competitive in midfield. There is a livelier atmosphere in the stadium than some of the matches at this World Cup so far, with a strong contingent of Argentinian fans.

Scaloni’s team are attacking with a line of five stretched right across the pitch. Al Owais does well to punch an Argentine corner clear.

10:04 AM

2 minutes

Goalkeeper Al Owais makes his first save of the game to deny Messi! The ball broke loose in the box after Di Maria carried the ball down the right flank, and the far corner looked open for Messi to stroke the ball into with his left instep. He did not set it out far enough though, and the goalkeeper made a decent stop.

That just might earn Al Owais some credit on our live player ratings. You can give all 22 players a mark out of 10 below:

10:01 AM

KICK OFF!

Saudi Arabia get us started. How long will they manage to hold out for?

09:59 AM

Here’s one man who is doing the quadruple today

09:58 AM

The national anthems in progress…

Right in the middle of the Saudi anthem, ITV’s live feed cut out and went to a test screen. Looks to all be in order now.

09:50 AM

Saudi fans in attendance

Supporters and dignitaries from the Kingdom are in Qatar, thanks to a dispute over television piracy being settled between the two states. Saudi broadcasters were showing Premier League matches directly from Qatar’s beIN Sports.

Saudi Arabia soccer fans sing prior to the the World Cup group C soccer match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia - AP/Ricardo Mazalan

Saudi Arabia soccer fans sing prior to the the World Cup group C soccer match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia – AP/Ricardo Mazalan

09:42 AM

This is the first of four games today

Denmark vs Tunisia, Mexico vs Poland and France vs Australia to follow. Make sure you get your diary sorted by consulting our full fixture schedule here:

09:34 AM

ITV with a piece on sportswashing

Roy Keane has had his say: “The World Cup shouldn’t be here. It shouldn’t be here. The corruption of the initial bid with Fifa, they way they treat migrant workers and gay people. We all love football but we can’t ignore human rights. It shouldn’t be here.”

Graeme Souness is more equivocal, he says the Saudi ownership should be “nowhere near Newcastle” but says we do not live in a perfect world and that money from Gulf states has “infiltrated” every level of society. He says activists will not let these issues drop long after the tournament has finished. He finishes by saying “the British have not been perfect in many parts of the world, including in Roy’s country.”

09:26 AM

Thom Gibbs’ kit rankings

Argentina’s blue and white stripes are one of those most recognisable jerseys at any World Cup, a true classic you do not mess around with. Where does this year’s strip rank in Thom’s exhaustive kit rankings? Find out here.

09:20 AM

Argentina’s two idols

Some argue Messi could surpass Diego Maradona as history’s greatest player should he deliver Argentina a World Cup of his own. This is his last chance.

The big difference between 2022 and 1986 of course, is that Messi is on the wrong side of his peak years whereas Maradona was in his prime and shaped the entire tournament. For all Messi’s abundant gifts, I’m not sure Argentina can rely on him to be a driving force in the same way. It needs to be a collective effort.

Argentina's suporters wave a jersey of Argentina's forward #10 Lionel Messi and an effigy depictying football legend Diego Maradona - AFP/ KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV

Argentina’s suporters wave a jersey of Argentina’s forward #10 Lionel Messi and an effigy depictying football legend Diego Maradona – AFP/ KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV

09:16 AM

Argentina’s team analysed

They typically set up with a 4-3-3 and it looks like more of the same for Scaloni. Otamendi is preferred to Lisandro Martinez at the centre-half, which might surprise some Premier League fans, but national teams have their own hierarchies.

Argentina will be without Giovani Lo Celso for this tournament through injury, with Alejandro Gomez starting in midfield ahead of Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister.

The front three of Messi, Martinez and Di Maria picks itself.

09:06 AM

The two teams

Argentina: Emeliano Martinez, Nahuel Molina, Cristian Romero, Nicolas Otamendi, Nicolas Tagliafico, Alejandro Gomez, Rodrigo De Paul, Leandro Paredes, Lionel Messi (c), Lautaro Martinez, Angel Di Maria

Saudi Arabia: Mohamed Al-Owais, Ali Al-Bulaihi, Yasser Al-Shahrani, Mohamed Kanno, Saud Abdulhamid, Abdulelah Al-Malki, Saleh Al-Shehri, Hassan Al-Tambakti, Salman Al-Faraj (c), Salem Al-Dawsari, Firas Al-Buraikan.

08:48 AM

Predict the score

08:27 AM

Good morning

Argentina have not been crowned world champions since 1986, but expectations are sky high for Qatar after winning the Copa America last year. Lionel Scaloni’s team are 36 games unbeaten and after a relatively indifferent campaign last season, Lionel Messi has been in magical form for PSG.

At previous tournaments, Argentina have struggled to balance their team around Messi, with star poachers such as Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain perhaps not his ideal foil. In Lautaro Martinez, they possess a selfless forward who will do Messi’s running and also the ever dependable Angel di Maria supplying the bullets. Messi was pictured in training with what appeared a swollen ankle but was later revealed to be protective strapping.

Argentina's forward Lionel Messi takes part in a training session at the Qatar University Training Site in Doha, on November 21, 2022, on the eve of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia - JUAN MABROMATA / AFP) (Photo by JUAN MABROMATA/AFP via Getty Images

Argentina’s forward Lionel Messi takes part in a training session at the Qatar University Training Site in Doha, on November 21, 2022, on the eve of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia – JUAN MABROMATA / AFP) (Photo by JUAN MABROMATA/AFP via Getty Images

Argentina kick off against Saudi Arabia, surely one of the weakest teams in the competition. With Mexico and Poland making up the group, Scaloni’s team will be heavy favourites to reach the knockouts stages as group winners. Saudi Arabia have only made it out of the group once in five appearances at the World Cup, but did win a game in Russia against Egypt. Since 2002, Saudi Arabia have been beaten 8-0 by Germany, 4-0 by Ukraine and 5-0 by Russia at World Cups so they will fear another beating.

Defender Cristian Romero and forwards Nicolas Gonzalez, Alejandro Gomez and Paulo Dybala were left out for Argentina’s last warm-up match in Abu Dhabi, a 5-0 thrashing of UAE, with all four recovering after feeling “some discomfort” according to Scaloni. Argentina will hope Romero can recover because centre-back is a potential weak spot, although Nicolas Otamendi is still going strong at international level. Should Argentina win their group, the odds would suggest a meeting with Denmark in the next round unless the Danes spring a surprise and beat France to top spot in their group.

Full team news on the way shortly.

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