Lusail, Qatar – Ahmed Shaqri is ecstatic.
“This is my first World Cup match, and I get to see Saudi Arabia beat Argentina,” said the Green Falcons fan, moments after witnessing his team defeat the Qatar 2022 favourites at a packed Lusail Stadium in one of the biggest upsets in the football tournament’s history.
And brilliant it was. Two quick goals by Saleh al-Shehri and Salem al-Dawsari early in the second half stunned the Argentinian side, which had taken an early lead with a Lionel Messi penalty in the 10th minute.
“After that second goal, I thought we could go up 4-1,” said Fahd al-Kanani, a fan who travelled to Qatar from Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh.
“I was not worried like some of my friends were,” the 25-year-old said. “All we had to do was defend. The pressure was all on Argentina.”
The Argentinians did apply pressure, but a series of saves from the Saudi goalkeeper, Mohammed Al-Owais, kept the scoreline intact and in favour of the underdogs, who are ranked 51st in the world in FIFA’s standings, compared with their opponents’ third place.
The end of the agonising game, which had about 15 minutes of injury time, found the Saudi players on the pitch overjoyed and their fans in the stands on their feet and jumping.
“We supported our team better than the other side, and we have been rewarded,” said Shaqri, who travelled from the eastern Saudi city of Dhahran.
At the opposing end, Argentina’s dejected fans were quick to head to the exits of the stadium, the tournament’s largest with nearly 89,000 seats.
“This is a nightmare. I never expected this,” Bruno, 31, who came from Dubai told Al Jazeera. “Like this is supposed to be Messi’s tournament, and here we are losing to a much lower-ranked team.
“I am truly distraught.”
It was an entirely different atmosphere before the 1pm (10:00 GMT) kickoff when upbeat Argentina supporters turned the area around the stadium into a sea of blue and white jerseys and flags while chanting, “Vamos Argentina,” or “Let’s go, Argentina.”
The optimism was built on the Albiceleste entering the World Cup with an impressive run of 36 consecutive unbeaten matches. They were seen as their clear favourites of Group C against the likes of Mexico, Poland and Saudi Arabia – but the shock defeat in their opener has now cast doubts on their chances ahead.
“This is unreal, really,” Jamie, 48, lamented. “I am very angry. This should not have been a hard game. We never took our chances. Now we have Mexico and Poland, who will be much tougher. I have a bad feeling we will not make it into the next round.”
Fans not rushing to leave the scene of Argentina’s defeat discussed what had gone wrong.
Cecilia, who lives in Qatar’s capital, Doha, said it would be hard to qualify for the next round.
“Other teams like Mexico, Poland will smell blood,” the 27-year-old Argentinian said. “They too will be confident now. But I am here, always supporting.”
Argentina’s next game will be against Mexico on Saturday while Saudi Arabia will take on Poland the same day.
For the Green Falcons fans, however, all that matters is now – and their team’s greatest victory ever.
Shortly after Slovenian referee Slavko Vincic blew the whistle at Lusail Stadium, the FIFA Fan Festival site in central Doha erupted in celebrations by jubilant Saudi fans.
Similar scenes were seen across the Qatari capital with honking cars forming impromptu parades as passers-by joined in the festivities with chants and cheers.
“Nothing beats this,” said Hassan Khalid, 27, from Medina, adding he still could not believe what had happened.
“It’s a dream come true.”