By Yoo Jee-ho
LUSAIL, Qatar, Nov. 22 (Yonhap) -- With two stunning goals early in the second half, Saudi Arabia shocked Lionel Messi and Argentina 2-1 on Tuesday for the first upset of this year's FIFA World Cup, and also the first win by an Asian team in Qatar.
Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari had a goal apiece for Saudi Arabia at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, just north of Doha, as the 51st-ranked underdogs overcame a 10th-minute penalty by Messi before 88,000 fans.
The first act of Messi's last dance on football's grandest stage had an exciting beginning, a spectacular twist, and a disappointing finish for the legend, who is playing in his fifth and likely final World Cup.
Saudi Arabia became the first Asian team to score multiple goals against Argentina in a World Cup match.
For the first time in tournament history, there are more Asian Football Confederation (AFC) teams than African teams. Having an Asian nation, Qatar, as the host helps with that number, as they are joined by five qualifiers in South Korea, Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Australia. Africa is represented by Cameroon, Ghana, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia.
Qatar set an ominous tone for the continent, as they lost to Ecuador 2-0 in the opening match on Sunday. They became the first host nation to lose their opening match of a World Cup.
Then on Monday, Iran, the top-ranked Asian country at No. 20, were routed by England 6-2. Losing their starting goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand to a head injury in the early moments contributed to that big loss.
Saudi Arabia were regarded as massive underdogs against Argentina, and after Messi converted his penalty, the match seemed headed for a result that many had expected to see this afternoon.
With his seventh career World Cup goal, Messi became the fifth player to score at four different World Cups, having done so in 2006, 2014, 2018 and now 2022.
But Argentina also had three goals disallowed on offside calls, including one by Messi. And those lost opportunities bit the South Americans in the second half.
Saudi Arabia, who did not have a shot in the first half, pulled even just three minutes into the second half, on a goal by Saleh Al-Shehri after a great individual effort. Five minutes later, Saudi Arabia took a 2-1 lead, with Salem Al-Dawsari's right-footed strike hitting the top right corner to cap off an unexpected turn of events.
These goals appeared to go to Saudi Arabian players' legs, as they played shutdown defense and continued to win battles for the ball. Goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais also made some key saves to keep his team in front.
Then during added time, defender Abdulelah Al-Amri saved a goal for Saudi Arabia, heading away a shot attempt while positioned right on the goal line.
Australia were scheduled to face the defending champions France Tuesday night.
Other Asian sides will go for their own upsets this week. Japan will begin their Group E action against Germany on Wednesday. Then it will be South Korea's turn in Group H on Thursday against Uruguay.
Asian teams have long had trouble winning their first matches at World Cups. Kuwait's 1-1 draw with Czechoslovakia in 1982 was the first instance in which an Asian nation didn't lose their opening match.
South Korea became the first Asian side to win their first game when they beat Poland 2-0 in 2002.
South Korea also won their opening games at the next two World Cups, beating Togo 2-1 in 2006 and then Greece 2-0 in 2010. The Taegeuk Warriors made it to the round of 16 in 2010.
Japan have also done well in recent tournaments. They defeated Cameroon 1-0 to start the 2010 event, and then Colombia 2-1 in 2018. They reached the knockouts on both occasions.