Argentina were many people’s pick to lift the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Oddschecker, which compares World Cup odds and offers, had made Brazil the favorite for glory in the Arabian Gulf State. But the Selecao fell in last year’s Copa America final to their greatest rivals, on home turf nonetheless.
That defeat gave Lionel Messi the first international trophy of his glittering career, and it was expected that he and his teammates would follow that up with an impressive showing on football’s grandest stage. That may still happen, but following an opening-day defeat to lowly Saudi Arabia, that looks less likely than ever before.
Everything seemed to be going according to plan inside the 80,000-capacity Lusail Iconic Stadium – the same stadium that will host the final on December 18th. A 10th-minute penalty from Messi set them on their way. Three more goals would follow before half time, another for the PSG magician and two for Lautaro Martinez, but all of them were ruled out for offside.
Then, in the second half, the unthinkable happened. Saudi Arabia were as far behind as 500/1 with online bookmakers when they were 1-0 down. But a goal from Saleh Alshehri shortly after halftime, then another four minutes later from Salem Aldawsari, were enough to seal a deserved victory for the underdogs, and perhaps the biggest shock in World Cup history.
Hope is not yet lost. Argentina still have two group-stage fixtures remaining, Mexico and Poland. La Albiceleste will potentially need to win both if they are to progress to the second round.
They have beaten the Mexicans twice before, with Maxi Rodriguez’s stunner in 2006 and Carlos Tevez’s double in 2010 enough to secure victory. They will need to repeat the feat again in 2022.
Defeat brings back memories of a disappointing campaign four years ago
Argentina’s World Cup campaign in Russia four years ago was also a disappointment, especially considering tens of thousands of fans had traveled over from South America to Eastern Europe. That tournament began with an underwhelming draw against Iceland before Argentina slumped to a gobsmacking 3-0 defeat against eventual finalists Croatia.
They would defeat Nigeria in their last group game courtesy of Marcos Rojo’s late winner, setting up a last-16 tie against France. But despite giving their most impressive performance of the competition, it wasn’t enough. Argentina fell to a 4-3 defeat in an all-time classic.
It’d be great to see Argentina live up to expectations in the World Cup 2022, but they’ll have to overcome a disappointing opening performance.