Saudi Arabia mounted a rebellion against logic at Qatar 2022. Argentina’s 36 unbeaten games came to an end at the Lusail Stadium. The immortal mystique of the World Cups is woven from stories that are born in the fleeting. Five minutes of inspiration have eternalized an eleventh who assumed the role of victim from the draw. In fact, they have given the first bump in the World Cup: a golden page that will be revisited until the end of time.
Argentina wanted to open the game quickly. Messi tried it in an early notice. Arabia was a front row spectator. After 7 minutes, Paredes was knocked down in the area. Slavko Vinvic reviewed the VAR and, in an expendable exaggeration, scored a penalty. Messi has never understood bureaucracy. He charged softly to the right of the goalkeeper, totally defeated on his left. The goal released all pre-existing tension, but limited the creative field of the Albiceleste power. They seemed to have everything under control.
And appearances die sooner or later in football. La Albiceleste took the process lightly. In a colorless first half, Saudi Arabia took a doctorate in throwing offside. Up to seven times, the Argentine forwards saw their appearances in the area frustrated. Messi suffered it, with a bit to the garbage can. Lautaro Martínez scored two goals, both with exquisite resolutions, which were cancelled. The students of the charismatic Hervé Renard played on the edge of risk to counter the enemy’s arsenal. The 1-0 at halftime pleased them as a reward for the method of throwing the line and displacing the Argentine bishops.
The monotony of a match that pointed to the predictable was broken when Leandro Paredes lost the ball in midfield. It was the breaking point for everyone. Saudi Arabia struck on the first try. They had not shot on goal in the entire game when Saleh Al-Shehri crossed Emiliano Martínez to seal the equalizer at 47′. Stupor took over the atmosphere. It was already a feat. And the climax was missing: the shock had a lasting effect for those of Scaloni.
The proof that soccer is a state of mind came five minutes later. Salem Al-Dawsari dribbled past Cristian Romero and drew with a golden pen: his right hand turned the world upside down. The 2-1 was not in anyone’s prediction. And soccer, that game denatured to the point of exhaustion, became soccer again. The baskets of superiority were emptied and, of course, after a double bucket of cold water.
The reaction from the bank was immediate. Julián Álvarez, Enzo Fernández and Lisandro Martínez entered. There was no time for contemplations. Messi went into his most organizing facet while Di María rode at full speed to open up the Saudi defense. Revolutions were left over for a runaway Argentina, but they did not have serenity or precision. Without those lights, all the rushes were sterile. Arabia no longer caused great sensations of danger, but defended itself with the stoicity that eternal nights deserve.
Messi’s free kick, after 80 minutes, was the high point of frustration. There was no heroic rescue. The subsequent scene, the fatalistic gesture on the ten’s face, referred to the saddest nights: that of Córdoba in 2011 against Uruguay; the finals against Chile; Maracana in 2014. The weight of recent history victimized an Argentina that had shaken off its ghosts last year by winning the Copa América.
No one can bury them ahead of time. They are still them. They already know they are fallible and, perhaps, that makes them more dangerous than ever. The character of Messi and his colleagues will face the ultimate test. Saudi Arabia, the pawn on the board, will go to sleep today with glory in its arms. Mexico and Poland no longer see three safe points against them. Today they will go out to play with more tension than budgeted: they cannot fail. The wounded giant and the little giant await them. Group D burns in flames and this is just beginning.