It wasn’t meant to be like this for Lionel Messi.
Considered by many as the world’s greatest player, the Argentina playmaker has suffered a nightmare start to the World Cup in Qatar.
And if a picture can say a thousand words, then you only need to look at Messi’s face as things fell apart for his team.
Rank outsiders Saudi Arabia scored two goals in a frantic five minutes early in the second half of the group stage game to stun one of the World Cup favourites.
The 2-1 loss means Argentina – one of the Cup favourites with Brazil and France – could be eliminated if they lose to Mexico next.
“It’s a very heavy blow, a defeat that hurts, but we must continue to have confidence in ourselves,” Messi said after the loss.
“This group is not going to give up. We will try to beat Mexico.”
Former Liverpool defender Jason McAteer called it the greatest upset in world football history during the Bein Sports coverage.
From there, Argentina looked rattled and some desperate last ditch defending from the Saudis kept the South Americans at bay.
Not that Argentina – and Messi in particular – didn’t have chances to change the game.
He was denied by a desperate tackle by Ali Al Bulayhi, while he had a header easily saved by Mohammed Al Owais in the 84th minute.
Deep in stoppage time Messi had the ball in the box, but couldn’t get a shot away.
It was in stark contrast to the first half, where Argentina looked in complete control and Messi scored to give his side the lead.
The official FIFA World Cup Twitter account even tweeted “2022 already feels different” after Messi scored from the spot, after his penalty was saved in the corresponding game against Iceland in 2018.
He became the first Argentine to score in four World Cups with his easy strike, after Argentina was awarded a controversial penalty through VAR.
From there Argentina had two goals rightly ruled out for offside, but seemed in control.
Then all chaos erupted and the Lusail Stadium – which will host the World Cup final – went into meltdown.
First Saleh Al Shehri scored with Saudi Arabia’s first shot on target in the game in the 48th minute, before Salem Al Dawsari gave the underdogs the lead with a sweet strike in the 53rd minute.
It’s a result that just shouldn’t have happened. Argentina is ranked 3rd in the world, the Saudis 51st.
Argentina was unbeaten in 36 games coming into the clash, and it was the first time it had conceded two goals in an opening game since 1974.
But after lacklustre performances from Iran and Qatar, Saudi Arabia showed that not all of the Asian teams would be pushovers this World Cup.
Saudi Arabia looked shaky in the first half, playing a high defensive line, but showed more fight than Iran and Qatar combined.
Once Saudi Arabia had the lead, the Falcons defended like men possessed as Argentina struggled to find an answer.
It was a nightmare start to the World Cup in what will be Messi’s last chance to lift the trophy.
“It is probably my last World Cup, my last chance to land this great dream that we all have,” Messi said before the tournament kicked off.
Messi, considered by many to be the greatest player of all time, has enjoyed a trophy-laden career but is yet to win the biggest prize of all.
The 35-year-old forward has already played in four World Cups, including the 2014 final, but has so far failed to match the achievement of fellow Argentine great Diego Maradona, who captained the side to glory in 1986.
Now Argentina has to beat Mexico or Messi’s dream of World Cup glory could be over forever.
– With AFP