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Winners & Losers

More World Cup misery for Messi! Argentina winners, losers and ratings as Saudi Arabia pull off the unthinkable

13:05 GMT 22/11/2022
Lionel Messi Argentina 2022-23
The iconic No.10 opened the scoring in his final World Cup but ended up on the wrong side of a remarkable result in Lusail.

Argentina's unbeaten run is over. The World Cup has its first upset. And it's a whopper, too, with a sensational performance from Saudi Arabia leaving Lionel Messi & Co. in a state of shock.

In his fifth and final tournament, the 34-year-old is facing more World Cup misery after his nation's humiliating 2-1 defeat in their opening game at Qatar 2022.

It had all been going so well for Messi. He opened the scoring with an early penalty, thus becoming only the fifth player to score in four World Cups.

However, Argentina failed to add that crucial second goal, with the captain and his fellow forwards repeatedly caught out by Saudi Arabia's high line.

The underdogs then turned the game, and Group C, on its head by scoring with their first two shots on goal in a fantastic five-minute spell at the start of the second half, with Saleh Al-Shehri equalising before Salem Al-Dawsari produced a wonderful solo strike.

Messi tried to rally his side but not even the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner could deny an inspired Saudi Arabia arguably the biggest upset the World Cup has ever witnessed.

Below, GOAL runs through the winners and losers on a jaw-dropping afternoon in Lusail...

  • Salem Al-Dawsari Saudi Arabia 2022-23

    The Winners

    Salem Al-Dawsari:

    We have an early contender for goal of the tournament! Al-Shehri's equaliser clearly stunned Argentina – as well as the rest of the world – and Salem Al-Dawsari took full advantage, picking up possession on the left-hand side of the box and jinking past Rodrigo De Paul with impressive ease before bending the ball into the far corner of Emiliano Martinez's net. The goalkeeper did get a touch on the ball but there was no spoiling the aesthetic beauty of a goal that was as sublime as it was shocking. The celebration wasn't bad either...

    Mexico and Poland:

    The expectation was that Mexico and Poland would be playing for second spot when they faced off in Doha, but top spot is now very much up for grabs. The Saudis have shown that Argentina are far from invulnerable. Lionel Scaloni's side are brittle at the back and, from a mental perspective, they will now be on edge going into their two remaining fixtures. That can only be good news for Mexico and Poland. You can be damn sure that Robert Lewandowski, for one, will be looking forward to facing this Argentina defence!

    Saudi Arabia:
    Of course, Saudi Arabia will be targeting a place in the last 16 themselves – and rightly so. Anything is possible after beating Argentina. Indeed, it's difficult to overstate the scale of their achievement. Going by the world rankings, Saudi Arabia (51) are the second-weakest team at Qatar 2022, and yet they've just beaten a side many tipped to take home the trophy. It was a truly seismic result. There were players, supporters and even journalists from both nations in tears at full-time. No matter what happens next, though, Herve Renard's players' place in World Cup folklore is already secure. They have achieved instant immortality at home. And also, from a neutral perspective, given everyone a timely reminder of the beauty of the World Cup, where dreams sometimes do come true.

  • Lionel Messi Harry Maguire VAR

    The Losers

    VAR consistency:

    VAR confusion is nothing new, of course. It's been a source of controversy since day one. However, its application at this World Cup is going to be very, very interesting given what we've seen over the past three days, particularly in relation to pushing and pulling in the penalty area. Indeed, on Monday afternoon, Harry Maguire was essentially wrestled to the ground by Rouzbeh Cheshmi during the early stages of England's win over Iran, and yet VAR didn't intervene. However, less than 24 hours later, a penalty was awarded to Argentina after Saud Abdulhamid had grappled with Leandro Paredes in the area. It was technically a foul but, in the context of what we see in the box in every single game, it was soft, and certainly nowhere near as bad as Cheshmi's takedown on Maguire. One would hope that a mistake had simply been made in the England game. Consistency is, however, key now. It is imperative that every single incident of holding, shoving or shirt-pulling is also punished with a penalty. Otherwise, there is only going to be further uproar.

    Cristian Romero:

    By no means the only Argentine to underperform, but it came as no surprise to see the Tottenham centre-back replaced just before the hour mark having been made to look painfully slow by Al-Shehri for Saudi Arabia's equaliser. Before the game, it was thought that Nicolas Otamendi might be the weak link in the centre of the defence but it was Romero who was exposed. It would not be a surprise to see the 24-year-old dropped for the must-win meeting with Mexico on Saturday and replaced in the starting line-up by Lisandro Martinez.

    Argentina's sense of timing:

    This was a hell of a time for Argentina's 36-game unbeaten run to come to an end. But they only have themselves to blame. Of course, they had three goals disallowed in the first half and some of the offside calls were ridiculously close. For example, Lautaro's brilliant dinked finish was disallowed because his shoulder was ahead of the last man. However, there's no denying that Argentina struggled to get to grips with the Saudis' high line. They were caught offside seven times in the first half alone. Once it became clear that their opponents weren't going to ditch their high-risk/high-reward approach, the likes of Lautaro really should have started checking their runs a tad. As it was, they continued to fall into the Saudis' expertly-executed offside trap. The net result is that one of the tournament favourites are now facing an embarrassingly early exit, given this was supposed to be their easiest game in Group C. The threat of elimination will hang over them going into their two remaining fixtures, against Mexico and Poland. They are, as Lautaro admitted, "two finals". Lose either and Messi's last dance could turn into a damp squib.

  • Nicolas Tagliafico Argentina

    Argentina Ratings: Defence

    Emiliano Martinez (5/10):

    Didn't actually have much to do. Saudi Arabia had just three shots on goal, yet two of them went in, which is never a good look for a goalkeeper...

    Nahuel Molina (5/10):

    One of Argentina's better defenders but it was a low bar. The winner came down his side and he didn't offer enough going forward either, which is strange, as that's usually his forte.

    Cristian Romero (3/10):

    As mentioned above, a dire display brought to a premature end by Scaloni.

    Nicolas Otamendi (6/10):

    Definitely the dominant member of Argentina's centre-back pairing. Won plenty of headers and tackles and won't be best pleased with the efforts of those around him.

    Nicolas Tagliafico (5/10):

    Went agonisingly close to scoring an equaliser but was well below his best and was taken off with 19 minutes left.

  • Rodrigo De Paul Argentina 2022-23

    Midfield

    Rodrigo De Paul (4/10):

    Despite his underwhelming form at Atletico Madrid, big things were expected of De Paul, who has looked a different player for his country. However, his passing was desperately poor, while he was beaten far too easily for Saudi Arabia's winner.

    Leandro Paredes (3/10):

    It was Paredes who was dragged down for the penalty but he just didn't impress himself upon proceedings in the way he should have and he was unsurprisingly taken off after 59 minutes.

  • Lautaro Martinez Argentina

    Attack

    Angel Di Maria (5/10):

    Saw plenty of the ball, tried to run at the Saudi defence whenever possible, but his end product was dreadful.

    Lionel Messi (7/10):

    Made amends for missing a penalty in Argentina's opener at the last World Cup and everything went through him during a dominant first half that should have yielded more goals. However, despite his best efforts, he couldn't drag his team back into the game.

    Papu Gomez (3/10):

    A pale shadow of the player that starred for so long at Atalanta. Rightly replaced before the hour mark after failing to make any impact.

    Lautaro Martinez (5/10):

    Unlucky to see one ridiculously close offside call go against him but it was worrying just how much he struggled to get involved in Argentina's play. He had just two shots, and only completed 11 passes.

  • Lionel Scaloni Argentina

    Subs & Manager

    Julian Alvarez (5/10):

    Brought on with half an hour to go but failed to change the game.

    Lisandro Martinez (6/10):

    Came on for the hapless Romero and immediately looked like an upgrade, which wasn't hard in fairness.

    Enzo Fernandez (5/10):

    Introduced in place of Paredes and fared slightly better.

    Marcos Acuna (6/10):

    Replaced Tagliafico and did put himself about in the closing stages.

    Lionel Scaloni (5/10):

    This is Argentina's first defeat in more than three years but the backlash to this performance in Argentina will be bitter. His team failed to get to grips with Saudi Arabia's high line and faded badly down the stretch, with his triple substitution in the 59th minute failing to pay off. Scaloni now needs back-to-back victories to put one of the most humiliating defeats in Argentina history firmly behind him.