Day three of the FIFA 2022 World Cup in Qatar will go down in footballing history for the victory by Saudi Arabia — a team that football pundits predicted would not go far — over Argentina, one of the favourites to win the tournament.
Spectacular action by the Saudi players on the pitch and by their many thousands of ecstatic green-clad “Green Falcons” fans in the stands at the Lusail Iconic Stadium ensured that the third day of the World Cup competition will go down in history as the day a giant of the football world was toppled.
Elsewhere, Denmark drew nil all with Tunisia, the same for Mexico vs Poland, while France delivered a predicated result in firmly beating Australia.
Here is a quick guide recapping all you need to know from Tuesday and that unforgettable game.
The Argentina vs Saudi Arabia game kicked off at 1pm local time (10:00 GMT) at the Lusail Iconic Stadium.
The Argentinians immediately applied the pressure and the game seemed to be going their way when renowned team captain Lionel Messi slotted in a penalty shot after Saud Abdulhamid took down Leandro Paredes in the goalkeeper’s box.
But a flurry of good saves from Saudi Arabia’s goalkeeper, Mohammed al-Owais, kept Argentina’s goals at bay and gave a lifeline to the team who placed 51st in the world in FIFA’s standings, compared with Argentina’s enviable third-place ranking.
The first half saw Argentina attack ferociously and Saudi Arabia struggle to maintain control as the Argentinians had nearly two-thirds of ball possession. But, as Al Jazeera’s Nils Adler noted, the Argentinians had failed to capitalise on their onslaught and even clocked up seven offsides in total despite their dominance of the early part of the game.
Then came the second half, and a changed Saudi side emerged from the dressing room as they threw everything at victory. And their determination and skill paid off.
Saudi Arabia’s Saleh al-Shehri scored first in the 48th minute after intercepting a long ball, which he skilfully shot through Argentinian goalkeeper Damián Martinez’s legs and into the corner.
In what seemed just moments later, Saudi winger Salem al-Dawsari got inside Argentina’s defence and beautifully curled the ball into the top corner of the net.
The Saudi fans erupted in elation and likely a little joyous surprise.
The astonishing game, which involved some 15 nail-biting minutes of extra injury time, ended with the Saudi players on the pitch the victors and their Green Falcons fans jumping in the stadium’s stands.
“We supported our team better than the other side, and we have been rewarded,” said Shaqri, who had travelled from the eastern Saudi city of Dhahran for the match.
When Slovenian referee Slavko Vincic blew the final whistle, the FIFA Fan Festival site in central Doha exploded in celebrations as the shock of such a historic win began to sink in locally and globally.
Across the Qatari capital, Doha, drivers honked their cars’ horns and formed impromptu celebratory corteges.
It was a match of firsts: The first time Saudi Arabia had beaten Argentina. It was also the first victory for a Middle East football team at this World Cup, which is also being held in the Middle East region for the first time.
Messi, playing in his fifth World Cup, later described his team’s loss as a “very heavy blow”.
Argentina had maintained a 36-match unbeaten streak until their defeat by Saudi Arabia.
“We didn’t expect to start this way,” Messi said.
“We need to prepare for what is coming. We need to win or win, and that depends on us. We have to return to the foundation of who we are,” he said.
Saudi Arabia’s coach, Frenchman Herve Renard, said after the match that the team should not celebrate too much over what he described as a “totally crazy” win.
“All the stars in the sky were aligned for us,” Renard said after the game. “This is football, sometimes totally crazy things can happen,” he said.
“We needed to get this result, it will be one for the [history] books, but as a coach I’m always asking for more from my players, so let’s stay humble.”
Denmark against Tunisia were up next, kicking off at 4pm local time (13:00 GMT) at the Education City Stadium in what would be a high-energy but no-scoring match between the Danes and the Tunisians.
There was an electric atmosphere at the stadium, where it was difficult to spot a Danish fan in the sea of red-and-white-clad Tunisians.
The Tunisians — known to their fans as the Eagles of Carthage — controlled the early stages of the game, but the Danes eventually settled into the match and began, in turn, to dominate possession.
Tunisia, who brought bundles of energy from the very first touch of the ball, missed some almost-certain shots in both the first and second half, while the best chance of a goal in the entire game appeared to come from Denmark’s Andreas Cornelius, who surprised all with a head ball that landed against the goal post though he had launched his shot from almost point-blank range.
A draw may have been the fairest outcome, but both teams will have some soul-searching to do as to why their energy and many shots on goal did not convert into points scored.
But the Tunisia fans were happy that their side had earned a hard-fought draw against the Danes, particularly after the earlier Saudi win over Argentina in what was a jubilant day for Arab fans and teams at the World Cup.
In the cooler evening air of Qatar, it was Mexico against Poland who kicked off at 7pm local time (16:00 GMT) inside Stadium 974.
Placed at 13th in the FIFA rankings, none would underestimate the Mexicans with their trio of attackers: Raul Jimenez, Edson Alvarez and Hirving Lozano.
The Poles, though placed at 26th in the FIFA ranking and making just their ninth appearance at the World Cup since their debut in 1938, fielded star striker Robert Lewandowski — who in October won the Gerd Müller Trophy for best striker of the year — and so had good reason to be confident going into the game.
But Poland struggled to cope with Mexico’s intensity in the opening 35 minutes, with the North Americans dominating possession and keeping star striker Lewandowski away from getting his eye on the goal.
Though Mexico dominated the first half, one commentator described a lacklustre performance, even with Mexico having possession of the ball about 63 percent of the time.
At the start of the second half, there was hope that the teams might adopt a more free-flowing style of play, but it was not to be.
Shortly into the second half, Poland were awarded a penalty, which their striker Lewandowski failed to get past Mexico’s keeper Guillermo Ochoa — a miss that prompted the Mexican fans at Stadium 974 to raise the proverbial roof with chants of joy.
The Mexico and Poland match ended with a 0-0 stalemate in their opening Group C fixture.
In the last match of day three, it was France vs Australia kicking off at 10pm local time (19:00 GMT) at the Al Janoub Stadium.
Despite the French team’s many injuries, the World Cup’s defending champions were the favourites against Australia.
The injury rate was worrying, however: Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema had to withdraw from the team after tearing a muscle in training over the weekend; Christopher Nkunku limped out of training on Tuesday after being tackled by his own teammate; and neither Paul Pogba nor N’Golo Kante was able to travel to Qatar for the tournament.
Making their fifth consecutive World Cup appearance, the Australian “Socceroos” were young and hungry, ready to challenge France. They had a lot to prove on Tuesday as they had yet to emerge out of their group stage since first reaching the World Cup tournament in 2006.
And the game started with an Australia surprise as they shocked the French side by scoring a ninth-minute goal, with Craig Goodwin side-footing the ball into the top corner.
French fullback Lucas Hernandez had to limp off the pitch after being injured while attempting to block the cross that led to the Australian goal. Hernandez’s brother, Theo, then took his place in the French defence and less than 20 minutes later, he was instrumental in Adrien Rabiot’s first goal for Les Bleus.
Just minutes later, and with a little more than half an hour on the match clock, French striker Olivier Giroud, 36, scored the first of what would be two goals in the game.
France moved into the lead and never really looked back as they dominated the second half.
Kylian Mbappe headed in the third French goal in the 67th minute, and minutes later, he broke down the left of the field and sent over a cross that was also headed home by Giroud for his second and France’s fourth goal on the night.
“We got a scare but reacted quickly afterwards. Even if we could have scored more goals, we found each other, we were efficient,” Giroud said after the match.
“It’s very good for our self-confidence to have turned things around. We’ll have to learn from these little mistakes however.”
Australia’s coach Graham Arnold praised the French after the match.
“Look, at the end of the day, they’re are a quality side. They are world champions for a reason,” he added.
“I thought the first half, we did well. Second half, we ran out of legs a bit, but that’s the type of level of those players play at.”
Off the pitch:
Jubilant Saudi football fans celebrated late into the night, knowing they could rest easy with a lie-in on Wednesday, after Saudi Arabia’s King Salman announced a snap public holiday for workers in the public and private sectors, as well as students, in celebration of the win over Argentina.
Tunisia’s draw with Denmark was also celebrated as a double for Arab fans and teams on Tuesday.
“We, the Arabs, were expected to lose both matches. No one believed we could get these results. But look, who is celebrating? The Arabs,” Ayoub Gherbi, an Algerian who came to Education City Stadium to support Tunisia, told Al Jazeera.
“We can go far. How far? I say the sky is the limit. We [Arabs] are playing at home. Every Arab team will have a strong support. This will give every Arab team a huge boost,” Moez Babboucha, a Tunisian, told Al Jazeera.