On Wednesday, King Salman declared a public holiday in Saudi Arabia to commemorate the national team’s stunning 2-1 upset of Argentina at the 2022 World Cup.
According to state media, the news is a feather in the cap of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who recommended the royal order. Prince Mohammed was not present at the game, but he was present at the tournament’s start on Sunday.
Prince Saud, one of Prince Mohammed’s brothers, posted photos on Instagram of the crown prince prostrating in thanksgiving to God in a room where his other brother, Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz, was also present, holding a Saudi flag and standing next to a smiling crown prince.
It was also a happy moment for host Qatar, which has faced harsh criticism for its human rights record in the conservative Muslim country. During the match, Qatar’s emir draped the Saudi flag over his shoulders. “Congratulations Greens,” a Doha skyscraper flashed.
Salman the Great
“Wow! I’m feeling everything right now. We beat Argentina, one of the great teams!” exclaimed Saad from Riyadh, who was wearing a green Saudi Falcons scarf and was in Qatar for two weeks.
“Our guys played so well today — everything went perfectly inside the stadium.” It was incredible.”
On his fifth and final attempt to win Argentina’s only major trophy, Messi, 35, scored a 10th-minute penalty in a dominant first-half display in which he and Lautaro Martinez also had three goals disallowed for offside.
However, Saudi Arabia, the tournament’s second-lowest-ranked team after Ghana, threw caution to the wind at the start of the second half, charging at Argentina’s defense in front of a raucous 88,012 crowd.
“Thank God, the players showed up, and we wiped them out,” Saudi fan Abdelaziz al-Khwatem said. “They relied on one player; we competed as a team and wiped them out; we are capable.” Keep an eye out for Saudi Arabia, because when it strikes, it hurts.”
A long line of cars with veiled women standing in their open sunroofs waving the Saudi flag was shown on Saudi television. Children who were celebrating made the victory sign.
The significance of the victory will eventually dawn on you. Prior to Tuesday’s game, Saudi Arabia had won only three World Cup matches in its history.
“This will go down in history,” Saudi Arabia coach Hervé Renard said. “Sometimes things are completely out of control.”
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 favourites 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.
The top two countries qualify for the round of 16
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 Mexico next Tuesday in Group C. Both are probably still favourites 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.