King Salman has declared a public holiday in Saudi Arabia Wednesday to mark the superb game of the national team 2-1 upset Lionel Messiit is Argentina at the 2022 World Cup.
The news is a feather in the hat 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 center when the tournament opened on Sunday.
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One of Prince Mohammed’s brothers, Prince Saud, posted photos on Instagram showing the crown prince bowing 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 country Qatar, which faced intense criticism over human rights in the conservative Muslim country. The Emir of Qatar draped the Saudi flag over his shoulders during the match. A Doha skyscraper flashed “Congratulations Greens”.
“Wow! I have all the feelings right now. We beat Argentina, one of the best teams!” said Saad from Riyadh, who has been in Qatar for two weeks and was wearing a green Saudi Falcons scarf.
“Our guys played so well – everything went well inside the stadium today. It was amazing.”
In his fifth and final quest for the only major trophy to elude him, Messi, 35, scored a 10th-minute penalty in a dominating first-half display by Argentina on Tuesday in which he and lautaro martinez also had three goals disallowed for offside.
But Saudi Arabia, the second-lowest-ranked team in the tournament, after Ghanathrew caution to the wind at the start of the second half, charging the Argentina defense in front of a frenzied crowd of 88,012 spectators.
“Thank God the players were up to it and we eliminated them,” said Saudi fan Abdelaziz al-Khwatem. “They relied on one player, we competed as a team and we knocked them out, we are up to it. Pay attention to Saudi Arabia because when it hits, it hurts.”
A Saudi TV channel showed a long line of cars with veiled women standing in their open sunroofs waving the Saudi flag. Celebrating children gave victory sign.
The gravity of the victory will eventually be felt. Saudi Arabia are a team that had won just three World Cup matches in their history before Tuesday’s game.
“One for the books,” said Saudi coach Hervé Renard. “Sometimes things are completely crazy.”
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Goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais, who made two key saves late in the game to preserve victory at the Lusail Stadium north of Doha, was nearly overpowered at the end, perhaps failing to grasp the magnitude of the upset.
“I am very happy with this result that we were able to achieve against this very busy team,” said Alowais solemnly. “We prepared. We were 100% ready and hopefully we will have better results in the future. I felt we were particularly good in the final minutes because we got our three points.”
Not just in the last minutes. Despite a 1-0 halftime lead, Saleh Alshehri and Salem Aldawsari managed to score a goal each early in the second half.
Then came over 50 minutes, including end-of-game added time at the referee’s discretion, to keep one of the tournament favorites at bay.
“All the stars lined up for us,” said Renard, who won the Africa Cup of Nations as Zambia coach 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 control of Saudi Arabia in 2019.
“We made history in Saudi football,” Renard said. “It will stay forever. That’s the most important thing. But we also have to think about looking ahead because we still have two games which are very, very difficult for us.”
Renard said he asked his players to limit the post-game celebration to 20 minutes.
“That’s all,” he said. “But there are still two games left – or more.”
They still have to face Poland on Saturday, then face Mexico next Tuesday in Group C. Both are likely still favorites against Saudi Arabia despite the upset.
He also suggested another possible truth: Messi and Argentina probably underestimated Saudi Arabia, who are only No.51 in the FIFA rankings. Argentina is No. 3.
“But you know the motivation is not like playing against Brazil,” he added.
Information from Reuters and The Associated Press was used in this report.