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Argentina misses the start of the title mission (nd-aktuell.de)

While Saudi Arabia’s players celebrate the 2-1 win at the start of the World Cup, Argentina’s stars around Lionel Messi (3rd from right) are shocked.

Photo: imago/Kieran McManus

Already in the morning a blue and white crowd pushed through Lusail. Thousands of Argentinian soccer fans flocked to the Iconic Stadium to watch two-time world champions Argentina’s first game against Saudi Arabia at 1 p.m. local time. In glorious sunshine, a group of South American crowds danced merrily within sight of the arena with a replica World Cup trophy. From their point of view, the third title should be here in Qatar, also because the 35-year-old superstar Lionel Messi will most likely not be there in four years.

But even with Messi, the Argentinian spectators experienced a bitter disappointment or a huge surprise among the 88,012 visitors, of whom the clear majority supported the South Americans. After the final whistle, the fans of the »Albiceleste« slunk away disappointed, while the drums of the supporters of Saudi Arabia must have been ringing in their ears uncomfortably.

Free entry to the amusement park

The World Cup has its first sensation with the 2-1 victory of Saudi Arabia. For Argentina, spoiled by victory, who suffered a defeat for the first time since 2019 after 36 international matches, he proved to be a mood killer. After the end of the 14-minute stoppage time, the co-favorite gathered briefly in the center circle and then trotted off the pitch without saying a word. “You don’t have time to make mistakes at the World Cup. They came at the worst possible time. We were supposed to be the favourite. But that’s how it is at the World Cup,” said coach Lionel Scaloni.

The eleven of Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, could hardly believe their luck. In the fifth World Cup participation, it was clear beforehand that there would not be an 8-0 defeat against Germany in the opening game in Japan, as was the case 20 years ago. But few in the Saudi Arabian squad expected a win. At home, great euphoria broke out immediately. “Heroes,” wrote Minister of Sport Abdalasis bin Turki al-Faisal on Twitter. The party mood was fueled even more: Turki al-Sheikh, head of the Saudi entertainment authority, allowed free entry to three amusement parks.

Saudi Arabia, of all places, the second Arab country so criticized in the first days of this World Cup. After all, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attended the opening ceremony live on site and Fifa boss Gianni Infantino sat next to him with a laugh. Salman is considered the mastermind behind the assassination attempt on Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi four years ago. The US Department of Justice has now only waived an indictment because the prince has diplomatic immunity as his country’s prime minister. Instead, his supporters pointed out on Tuesday that bin Salman didn’t put any pressure on the team before the World Cup, paving the way for the footballers’ success.

Unexpected double whammy

At first everything went as expected in the final stadium of the World Cup. In the second minute, Lionel Messi had the first opportunity, which goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais saved. However, he was powerless against the superstar’s penalty to make it 1-0 in the 10th minute. Argentina tied the outsider in, but more than three (!) offside goals were not to fall. After the restart, the opponent unexpectedly scored twice with goals from Saleh Al-Shehri (48′) and Salem Al-Dawsari (53′). Shocked, the Argentines couldn’t think of much afterwards. Saudi Arabia also survived the lengthy overtime period unscathed, which involved an injury to defender Yasser Al-Shahrani who was temporarily unconscious.

Messi also seemed correspondingly annoyed. ‘There’s no excuse. We must now be more united than ever and show that we are a real team,” he demanded. “It’s a situation we haven’t been in for a long time. It was a heavy blow for all of us.«

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