In Sports, everyone loves an upset story, especially if your beloved team/person is not at the receiving end. The whole world thoroughly enjoyed Saudi Arabia’s historic win over Argentina at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 on Tuesday and rightly so.
Football had often been touted as “anybody’s game” but that cliché had been battered severely for years as the strong teams keep getting stronger so much so that pre-game favourites more often than not live according to predictions.
The first four games of this World Cup tournament had gone according to plan – wins for Ecuador, England and Netherlands as well as USA cancelling Wales out. No one prepared us for the Saudi effect.
A major aspect of Saudi Arabia’s win that I loved was the Public Holiday declared in that Kingdom after a “mere World Cup group stage win”. It reminded us how football can truly mean so much to people and a nation at that.
The outcome of that Argentina vs Saudi Arabia might have instilled some genuine fighting spirits into perceived underdogs in the remaining first round of group games. Even Tunisia are cancelling out Denmark for good measure. #Qatar2022— Fisayo Dairo (@FisayoDairo) November 22, 2022
While the Saudis revel in their glorious win, the effect that performance would have on the remainder of the tournament immediately began to rear its head on the subsequent fixtures.
After the ignominious defeats suffered by host nation Qatar and then Iran to Ecuador and England respectively, there seemed to be an unconscious solidarity among the Arabs to back “their own”.
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Games involving the North African sides have witnessed raucous partisanship among the fans which, added to the Saudi effect could easily be highlighted as responsible for their fine results.
In the second minute of Denmark vs Tunisia – the next game after Saudi Arabia vs Argentina-, midfielder Aissa Laïdouni made a sweeping sliding challenge on Christian Eriksen and the Tunisian’s reaction after his tackle was priceless.
Laïdouni pumped his fists and gesticulated to the fans to make more noise. Hello!!? This is only the second minute, I muttered. Alas! I was wrong, he was right. The Saudi effect had pumped up their spirits and the Tunisians were never second best in any department against the much favoured Danes as the game ended scoreless.
Morocco went in the realm of Tuesday’s performances when they confronted last edition’s beaten finalists Croatia at the Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday. Also backed by the locals, the Atlas Lions were never overran by the more illustrious Croats with Walid Regragui’s men fully deserving of their point in the 0-0 stalemate.
Up step Japan! The Samurai Blue simply laminated a leaf out of Saudi Arabia’s textbook. They were dominated by the Germans in the first half on Wednesday and although they trailed 0-1 at the break, they left two important messages for the former champions. They had a goal correctly disallowed after a lightning counter attack and Daizen Maeda saw his header flash just wide in first half stoppage time.
Like the proverbial dog destined for doom, the Germans did not heed the warning and what befell them in the second half was worse than the Fukushima nuclear disaster as two goals by substitutes Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano meant they risk group stage elimination for a second World Cup tournament in a row. Another Elephant thus fell at the seat of Khalifa and in the manner of the Argentines.
Is this the tip of the iceberg? Will the underdogs get weary or perhaps go in this strength? Saudi Arabia! You do this one.