Finally, the World Cup is well and truly alive — after a monumental upset turned Lionel Messi’s tournament on its head.
It’s the upset the tournament desperately needed after a disastrous build-up in which football has been secondary.
And it proved, in some way, that money doesn’t always win — something we all need reminding of at a tournament where it seems to have been the only thing that matters.
Messi is the second-highest paid footballer on the planet. For nearly two decades things have simply happened for him on the football field. The magical and the ridiculous.
But never the World Cup.
The Qatar tournament is his World Cup swan song, his final chance at the ultimate team glory which has cruelly evaded him through one of football’s greatest ever careers.
And to understand how grand his stature is in Doha, the evidence was on offer well before his side suffered an astonishing 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia at the mighty Lusail Stadium on Tuesday.
A walk through the iconic Souq Waqif reveals blue-and-white jerseys numbering the 100s with Messi No. 10 on the back — but also his name adorns half a dozen Saudi jerseys, leading to some conflicted reactions 10 minutes into Tuesday’s contest.
Messi stepped up, converting a penalty, and in doing so became the first Argentine to score in four World Cups, surpassing the feat of the legendary Diego Maradona — who netted in three campaigns.
It was truly a goal that united the entire stadium. Argentina fans roared and danced for their champion — while Saudi fans cheered their idol, even at the expense of their nation.
In live betting Saudi Arabia were paying an extraordinary 500–1 following Messi’s opener, and would go on to have three goals ruled out by VAR for off-side inside 35 minutes.
Three minutes after halftime Saleh Alshehri levelled the scores with an exquisite curling right-foot effort, as the Saudi fans awoke. Messi is great, sure, but an upset of this magnitude? That is forever, and would truly send them into delirium.
The media overflow seats are situated right in the heart of a group of fanatical Saudi supporters, who are moments away from losing their minds.
Within five minutes, they were ahead. Salem Aldawsari, from a similar angle to his teammate, hits a gorgeous curling strike which goalkeeper Damien Martinez can only fend into to the top corner of the goal.
It’s 2-1. The crowd is in raptures. Miracles can happen. Amd for Messi and Argentina, a dream becomes a nightmare.
The man with all the answers — and the one they all came to see — stepped up in the 80th minute with a free-kick that could level the scores. But there was no Messi magic this time, his shot sailing into a crowd of distraught Argentina fans behind the goal.
With matches to come against Poland and Mexico, Argentina are far from dead in the water, but their path has become levels more treacherous.
Saudi Arabia? They’re floating on cloud nine, and shock leaders of Group C. And, despite Gianni Infantino’s best efforts, they’ve finally made this World Cup about the football.
Originally published as World Cup 2022 results, live scores, schedule: Saudi Arabia rocks globe with stunning upset