It is being widely dubbed the greatest World Cup upset of all time. Football’s quadrennial showpiece has never been afraid to produce moments of script-defying drama, but Tuesday’s mid-morning encounter in Lusail topped the lot, with Saudi Arabia putting a Lionel Messi-embellished Argentina to the sword in a 2-1 win.
Herve Renard is a tournament-hardened coach who took Morocco to the 2018 World Cup finals, but even against a relative novice in the dugout in Lionel Scaloni — who only took to the senior dugout four years ago — Saudi Arabia were never expected to be in with a shot of a result against La Albiceleste, let alone an opening-day triumph.
Poland’s opener meanwhile was a slightly more tame affair compared to the day’s earlier drama. Robert Lewandowski will be itching for this match to come around fast so he can make amends after fluffing his lines from 12 yards against Mexico. World Cup cult hero Guillermo Ochoa once against rose to the occasion to deny the Barcelona man from the spot and hold out for an opening-day point.
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Robert Lewandowski may have fired a blank in Poland’s opener as he squandered a gilt-edged chance from the spot, but he remains the nation’s most potent weapon up top. Only Harry Kane (12) and Memphis Depay (12) scored more goals than Lewandowski (nine) in Europe’s World Cup qualifiers, so he will certainly fancy his chances of opening his 2022 World Cup account on Saturday.
To say that Saudi Arabia put in a shift against Argentina would be a huge understatement. Renard would have known before the game that his side wouldn’t be able to match Argentina for quality, so they simply outfought and outworked the South Americans with a high line and a high press. It was real high-octane stuff from the Persian Gulf nation. Their 16 interceptions is the second-most of any nation at the tournament so far, while Mohammed Al Owais has made the most saves to date (five).