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The Biggest World Cup Upset in History?

Ouch. Photo: Hector Vivas/FIFA via Getty Images

Going into the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Argentina was the second favorite to win the tournament after Brazil, per betting markets. Its team is stacked with talent, including perhaps the best player to ever put on cleats, Lionel Messi, who is hoping to add the one prize he’s missing from his glittering résumé. Before Tuesday, Argentina hadn’t lost a game in its last 36 appearances, stretching back to 2019.

Yet somehow on Tuesday, the team fell to Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia! — 2-1 in one of the great upsets in World Cup history. The defeat, in Argentina’s first game of the tournament, puts its chances of advancing out of the group stage in serious doubt. Even if Argentina recovers with wins against Poland and Mexico, this game will forever live in infamy.

Messi did score a goal ten minutes into the contest, on a penalty kick. And Argentina appeared to go up 2-0 minutes later, before the second goal was called back. (Two other apparent Argentine goals were also disallowed thanks to offside penalties — evidence of a successful Saudi strategy to force those infractions.) But despite dictating the pace of play for most of the match, La Albiceleste, as Argentina’s team is known, failed to convert again. And shortly after halftime, Saudi Arabia scored two quick goals to take the lead, including a stunner from Salem Al-Dawsari:

Saudi Arabia’s team has had some international success in recent years. But Bet365 ranked them at the bottom of the 32 World Cup teams most likely to win the tournament, along with Qatar and Costa Rica. And their odds to beat Argentina on Tuesday were long.

The upset had people reaching for a historic parallel. Games that immediately came to mind: the U.S. beating England 1-0 in 1950, Senegal over France in 2002, North Korea over Italy in 1966, and a few others.

That one had to look deep into World Cup history to make a comparison says it all: This was a day of national humiliation for Argentina.

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The Biggest World Cup Upset in History?