Lusail, Qatar — Ahmed Shaqri is delighted.
“This is my first World Cup game and I’m watching Saudi Arabia beat Argentina,” said the Green Falcons fan shortly after watching his team beat Qatar 2022 favorites in a crowded Lusail stadium, which was one of the biggest surprises in the history of the soccer tournament.
And it was brilliant. Two quick goals from Saleh al-Shehri and Salem al-Dawsari at the start of the second half stunned the Argentine team, which had taken the lead early with a penalty from Lionel Messi in the 10th minute.
“After that second goal, I thought we could move up 4-1,” said Fahd al-Kanani, a fan who traveled to Qatar from the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh.
“I wasn’t worried like some of my friends did,” said the 25-year-old. “We just had to defend ourselves. The pressure was all on Argentina.”
The Argentines did apply pressure, but a series of saves ahead of Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais kept the result intact, in favor of the underdogs, who are 51st in the world in the FIFA overall standings compared to their opponents in third place.
At the end of the agonizing game, which had around 15 minutes of extra time, the Saudi players were overjoyed on the pitch and their fans in the stands stood on their feet and jumped.
“We supported our team better than the other side and were rewarded for it,” said Shaqri, who had travelled from the eastern Saudi city of Dhahran.
At the opposing end, Argentina’s depressed fans quickly made their way to the exits of the stadium, the biggest in the tournament with almost 89,000 seats.
“It’s a nightmare. I would never have expected that,” Bruno, 31, who came from Dubai, told CNN Breaking News. “As if this was supposed to be Messi’s tournament, and here we lose to a team with a much lower ranking.
“I’m really upset.”
There was a completely different atmosphere ahead of the kick-off at 1:00 PM (10:00 AM GMT) as the optimistic Argentine fans turned the area around the stadium into a sea of blue and white jerseys and flags as they sang “Vamos Argentina” or “Let’s go, Argentina.”
The optimism was based on Albiceleste taking part in the World Cup with an impressive streak of 36 unbeaten games in a row. They were seen as their clear Group C favorites against players such as Mexico, Poland and Saudi Arabia — but the shock defeat at the start now casts doubt on their chances.
“It’s really unreal,” lamented Jamie, 48,. “I’m very angry. It shouldn’t have been a difficult game. We’ve never used our risk. Now we have Mexico and Poland, which are going to be much tougher. I have a bad feeling that we won’t make it to the next round.”
Fans, who did not hurry to leave the scene of Argentina’s defeat, discussed what had gone wrong.
Cecilia, who lives in Qatar’s capital, Doha, said it was difficult to qualify for the next round.
“Other teams like Mexico and Poland will smell blood,” said the 27-year-old Argentinian. “They too will now be confident. But I’m here and I’m always supportive.”
Argentina’s next game will be against Mexico on Saturday, while Saudi Arabia will face Poland the same day.
For Green Falcons fans, however, all that matters is now — and their team’s biggest win of all time.
Shortly after Slovenian referee Slavko Vincic whistled at Lusail Stadium, many cheering fans from Saudi Arabia burst out on the grounds of the FIFA Fan Festival in central Doha.
There were similar scenes in the Qatari capital, where honking cars formed spontaneous parades as passers-by joined the festivities with songs and cheers.
“Nothing beats that,” said Hassan Khalid, 27, from Medina, adding that he still couldn’t believe what had happened.
“It’s a dream come true.”