LIONEL MESSI'S EARLY GOAL wasn't enough for Argentina, as Saudi Arabia fought back from deficit to earn a victory that will be talked about for years to come.
A goal apiece from Saleh Al-Shehri & Salem Al-Dawsari and a borderline superhuman performance from goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais sealed the historic 2-1 victory for the Falcons in the Group C opener match.
The match began in a way everyone expected, with the early chances going Argentina's way. The Saudi Arabian defenders looked stretched to their limits containing the Argentinian advances, often resorting to risky hard tackles. One such attempt led to a penalty being awarded, which Lionel Messi calmly slotted into the net.
The barrage from Argentina continued throughout the first half, but the Falcons defence managed to hold them at bay for the most part. Twice Argentina found the net, and twice the goals were called off for offside, including a VAR call that caught an infringement by mere inches.
But when the teams got back onto the pitch for the second half, it may have been a different game altogether. Early on, Saudi Arabia broke through with an offensive where Saleh Al-Shehri found himself in the Argentina box, tailed by a defender with the keeper advancing on him. Saleh allowed the ball to drift a bit from him and whipped it towards the net as his marker tried to slide in for an interception. The shot, brilliant under pressure, found its intended target. Saudi Arabia had equalised.
Perhaps taken aback by the turnaround, Argentina were caught off guard for the next few minutes and it was enough for Saudi Arabia to actually get ahead in the game. Soon after the equaliser, Salem Al-Dawsari scored with a spectacular chip into the corner of the net, and followed up with a celebration that was just as memorable as his historic finish.
After this the rest of the game was about Saudi Arabia's high defensive line going toe to toe with an increasingly frustrated Argentina attack. Keeper Mohammed Al-Owais produced a performance of a lifetime, pulling off multiple excellent saves with little to no reaction time. He was even caught off position at one point but defender Abdulelah Al-Amri saved the day with a goal-line clearance.
Argentina failed to breach the KSA defence despite trying their hardest, and their 36 match unbeaten run finally came to an end. This was the first time Saudi Arabia got a win over Argentina, and the fitst time in nearly a century that Argentina lost a match after leading at half-time.
With renewed hope fuelling their campaign, Saudi Arabia will return to the pitch on Saturday, facing Poland. Argentina, who will get back to action on the same night, will try hard to get back to winning ways when they take on Mexico.
But regardless of how the rest of the campaign goes for these two teams, what we have witnessed today is nothing sort of a historic milestone for both Saudi Arabia as well as Asian football.