‘Off the Richter Scale’: Saudi’s victory over Argentina was football at its glorious best

‘Off the Richter Scale’: Saudi’s victory over Argentina was football at its glorious best
Saudi Arabia’s Salem Al-Dawsari celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal during their World Cup match against Argentina at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail on Tuesday. (AP)
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Updated 23 November 2022

‘Off the Richter Scale’: Saudi’s victory over Argentina was football at its glorious best

‘Off the Richter Scale’: Saudi’s victory over Argentina was football at its glorious best
  • For those present at a shaking Lusail Stadium, the Green Falcons’ historic 2-1 win was a visceral experience like no other
  • It was a goal that also reverberated around the Arab world

DOHA: There are still 26 days left in this World Cup, including all the finals, and I am not sure anything will come close to matching what we witnessed at the Lusail Stadium on Tuesday afternoon, when Saudi Arabia caused one of the greatest World Cup upsets to stun Argentina 2-1 with goals from Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari.
How do you begin to put that into words?
Over 24 hours have passed since the game finished and I still do not have the words to describe what we witnessed. And not just witnessed, but what we felt, because being there was a visceral experience. It is three hours that will live long inside one’s very being.
It was joy, it was disbelief, it was sheer jubilation. It was football at its glorious best. It was, quite simply, the World Cup.
When Al-Dawsari curled in a goal-of-the-tournament contender to give Saudi Arabia a 2-1 lead over the tournament favorites, it was not just the Argentine fans who were shaken, the foundations of the Lusail Stadium shook beneath our feet.
It was a goal that also reverberated around the Arab world. This was not just a win for Saudi Arabia, this was a win for Arab football. No goal has arguably meant so much to this part of the world than Al-Dawsari’s wonder strike.
Videos filled social media of reactions from all over the Arab world, from Iraq to Sudan and everywhere in-between. It was as if their own national team had been on the pitch.
The win, arguably the biggest in Saudi Arabian history, was not just felt in the Arab world, it sent shockwaves around the world after two days of what can only be described as humiliation for Asian nations. The limp performances of Qatar and Iran had the world questioning the quality of football on this continent.
Hours before kickoff, the surrounds of the imposing and visually spectacular Lusail Stadium were heaving to the sound of songs in both Spanish and Arabic, with Saudi fans giving as good as anything offered up by the world-famous Argentine fans.
People who arrived in Qatar with the closed-mind mentality that there is no football culture in this part of the world would have received a rude awakening.
The newly-built Metro to the stadium was completely jam-packed for hours leading up to the game. Such was the expectation of an Argentine win that Saudi fans were happily settling for a 0-0 draw in their pre-match banter with their opponent’s supporters. Fans of La Albiceleste, and there were a lot (was anyone left in Argentina?), were not so keen on the idea.
Little did they know what was to come. I am sure they would happily take a 0-0 outcome now.
Once inside the stadium decibel levels rose to a new level. This felt like the day Qatar 2022 truly came alive. Before the teams walked out the two sets of fans traded songs, slowly increasing the intensity as kickoff approached.
Who said there was no atmosphere or vibe at this tournament? Anyone who still thinks that clearly was not inside the Lusail Stadium, but some people only see what they want to see.
Saudi Arabia have won Asian Cups. They have made the knockout rounds of previous World Cups. But nothing, no moment in their history will come close to eclipsing what happened on Tuesday afternoon.
Until now Saeed Al-Owairan’s goal in 1994 had been the defining moment for Saudi Arabia in their World Cup history. No longer. Now it is all about Al-Dawsari’s scorcher.
The sight of Yasser Al-Shahrani being stretchered off deep into injury time epitomized the Saudi effort on the pitch. They had given everything — blood, sweat and tears — for this cause. They were leaving nothing out on the pitch.
And neither were their fans in the stands. The official crowd number was 88,012, but I am sure in years to come 100,000-plus will claim they were there.
When Al-Shehri scored to equalize just minutes into the second half, if Lusail Stadium had a roof it would have been blown right off and landed somewhere near Riyadh.
I received a text in a chat group from back home in Australia at that moment asking me what the atmosphere was like.
“Off the Richter scale!!!” I replied.
When Al-Dawsari put the Green Falcons ahead a few minutes later, I commented again.
“There is no scale to measure this. This noise is on another level.”
Another level is an apt way to describe the entire experience. It is one that will never be forgotten.


Tickets for F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix open for booking 

Tickets for F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix open for booking 
Updated 03 December 2022

Tickets for F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix open for booking 

Tickets for F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix open for booking 
  • Saudi Arabia is one of the newest places on the Formula 1 calendar

JEDDAH: The Saudi Motorsport Company, the promoter of Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2023, offered access on Friday to early ticket packages for the third race of STC Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix — the second round of the F1 world championship — to be staged on the Jeddah Corniche circuit from March 17-19, 2023.

As of Friday, local and international audiences can pre-book tickets for 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on www.saudiarabiangp.com.

Early booking ticket holders will enjoy a discount of up to 10 percent for the premium hospitality category, and a 30 percent discount for the main stands and general admission category. This offer will be valid until the first week of January 2023 with a limited number of seats.

Saudi Arabia is one of the newest places on the Formula 1 calendar, as it hosted its first race in December 2021, and its second one after only four months in March 2022. 

In the first race, the competition intensified between Red Bull driver Max Verstappen and Mercedes driver and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, ending in a hard-fought victory for the Mercedes driver and both equal on points one round before the end of the season.

The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2022 had Verstappen winning after a fierce competition with Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, who took the lead for most of the race until Verstappen managed to overtake him three laps before the finish line.


Saudi Dakar Rally 2023 route unveiled

Saudi Dakar Rally 2023 route unveiled
Updated 03 December 2022

Saudi Dakar Rally 2023 route unveiled

Saudi Dakar Rally 2023 route unveiled

JEDDAH: The details of the fourth edition of Saudi Dakar Rally in 2023 were announced by the Dakar Rally Organizing Committee in a virtual press conference on Thursday.

Present during the press conference were Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, chairman of the board of directors of the Saudi Federation of Motors and Motorcycles as well as of the Saudi Motorsports Company; Jan Luminaire, CEO of Amaury Sport Organization; and David Castera, director of the Dakar Rally.

During the conference the route of the new edition of the rally — held for the fourth consecutive year in Saudi Arabia — was revealed. It will take place from Dec. 31 to Jan. 15, with 453 vehicles across various categories of the race, including 89 vehicles in the Dakar Classic race, with a distance of more than 8,500 km.

This is the longest for the special stages subject to timing since 2014, and is expected to attract drivers from more than 68 countries.

The rally track for this year consists of a preliminary stage and 14 regular stages. Drivers will begin the rally with an introductory trip from the sea camp in the northwestern mountain regions before heading to the far southeast, passing through AlUla, Hail, Dawadmi, Haradh, the Empty Quarter, Shaybah, Hofuf and Dammam.

The Saudi Dakar Rally last January witnessed the participation of a group of the most prominent global drivers, attracting more than 1,000 racers representing 70 countries from around the world. The 2022 edition of the event ran for 14 days across 12 stages and six categories.

Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal stressed that hosting Dakar Rally for the fourth time in a row confirms the Kingdom’s ability to host the most important international events, and contributes to consolidating its deserved position on the global sports map.

He said that due to the Kingdom’s capabilities and potential, Saudi Arabia has become a distinguished destination for fans of the sport, based on the nature of the rally as one of the largest and most important events on the motor sport agenda, leading to a spotlight on the diversity and geographical distinction of the Kingdom, which makes the rally stronger.

He added: “We have begun preparations with all concerned authorities to ensure the provision of all the required factors and elements, and to ensure success in organizing in a way that reflects our ambitions and underlines the transformation march of the Kingdom.”

The stages of the race will be as follows:

- Preliminary stage (Saturday, Dec. 31): Al-Bahr Camp — Al-Bahr Camp, for a distance of 11 km.

- First Stage (Sunday, Jan. 1): Camp Al-Bahr — Al-Bahr Camp, a circular stage for a distance of 603 km (Special stage: 368 km).

- Second Stage (Monday, Jan. 2): Al-Bahr Camp — AlUla, 590 km (Special Stage: 431 km).

- Third stage (Tuesday, Jan. 3): AlUla - Hail, 669 km (Special stage: 447 km).

- Fourth Stage (Wednesday, Jan. 4): Hail — Hail, circular stage for a distance of 573 km (Special stage: 425 km).

- Fifth Stage (Thursday, Jan. 5): Hail — Hail, circular stage for a distance of 646 km (Special stage: 375 km).

- Sixth stage (Friday, Jan. 6): Hail — Dawadmi, 877 km (Special stage: 466 km).

- Seven Stage (Saturday, Jan. 7): Dawadmi — Dawadmi, a circular stage for a distance of 641 km (Special stage: 473 km).

- Eighth Stage (Sunday, Jan. 8): Dawadmi — Riyadh, 722 km (Special Stage: 407 km).

- Rest Day (Monday, Jan. 9): Riyadh.

- Ninth Stage (Tuesday, Jan. 10): Riyadh — Haradh, 710 km (Special Stage: 439 km).

- 10th Stage (Wednesday, Jan. 11): Haradh — Shaybah, 623 km (Special Stage: 114 km).

- 11th Stage (Thursday, Jan. 12): Shaybah — Al-Ardah, marathon stage 426 km (Special stage: 275 km).

- 12th Stage (Friday, Jan. 13): Al-Ardah — Shaybah, marathon stage 375 km (Special stage: 185 km).

- 13th Stage (Saturday, Jan. 14): Shaybah — Hofuf, 669 km (Special Stage: 154 km).

- 14th Stage (Sunday, Jan. 15): Hofuf — Dammam, 414 km (Special Stage: 136 km).


Saudi Arabia exits World Cup with newfound confidence

Saudi Arabia exits World Cup with newfound confidence
Updated 01 December 2022

Saudi Arabia exits World Cup with newfound confidence

Saudi Arabia exits World Cup with newfound confidence
  • With Herve Renard motivating the team in his emblematic white shirt on the sidelines, Saudi Arabia proved tough to beat
  • Performance could also help promote a possible joint bid by Saudi Arabia with Egypt and Greece to host the 2030 World Cup

LUSAIL, Qatar: From a generational-defining win over Lionel Messi and Argentina to the recent reports that Cristiano Ronaldo could soon be on his way to play soccer in the kingdom, Saudi Arabia has caused a sensation at the World Cup.
The Green Falcons have nothing to be ashamed about after being eliminated following a 2-1 loss to Mexico on Wednesday.
The second-lowest ranked team in the tournament at No. 51 — one spot behind host Qatar — and ahead of only 61st-ranked Ghana, Saudi Arabia was competitive from start to finish at the first World Cup in the Middle East.
“We did our best. Today it was more difficult for us,” said Hervé Renard, Saudi Arabia’s French coach. “But we don’t have to forget what we did together.”
The Saudis opened with a surprising 2-1 victory over Argentina and also played solidly in a 2-0 loss to Poland before conceding two second-half goals to Mexico to finish last in Group C.
Salem Al-Dawsari, the team’s star No. 10, pulled a goal back in added time, before the Saudi players bent over on the field at the final whistle in prayer and then stood up to applaud their fans.
Strong goalkeeping from Mohammed Al-Owais prevented Mexico from scoring another goal — which could have sent the South Americans through to the round of 16. Instead, it was Argentina and Poland who advanced in the most wide-open group of the tournament.
With Renard motivating the team in his emblematic white shirt on the sidelines, Saudi Arabia proved tough to beat with a team featuring all 26 players based at home.
The fact that none of the Saudis play abroad may have been a surprise factor but the reality is that the country’s best players don’t need to go to Europe for rich contracts when they are paid handsomely in the lucrative Saudi league.
A high-paying contract is exactly what could lure Ronaldo to join six members of the Saudi national team at Al Nassr, one of the country’s leading clubs.
The reports linking Ronaldo with Al Nassr come after the five-time Ballon d’Or winner had his contract terminated by Manchester United.
Saudi-owned Newcastle United is also reportedly in the market for Ronaldo.
But whether Ronaldo goes to a Saudi or Saudi-owned club or not, the country’s national team leaves Qatar with plenty of newfound confidence.
The performance could also help promote a possible joint bid by Saudi Arabia with Egypt and Greece to host the 2030 World Cup.


5 things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s loss to Mexico and Qatar 2022 exit

5 things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s loss to Mexico and Qatar 2022 exit
Updated 01 December 2022

5 things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s loss to Mexico and Qatar 2022 exit

5 things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s loss to Mexico and Qatar 2022 exit
  • The exhausted Green Falcons fall short of the round of 16, but depart with plenty of pride and the memory of their stunning win over Argentina

A dramatic, at times beautiful adventure, is finally over.

Saudi Arabia exited the 2022 World Cup on Wednesday night at Lusail Stadium, losing 2-1 to Mexico. It means a fourth place finish in Group D with three points from three games.

Below are five things we learned from another drama-filled day in Qatar and the campaign in general.

1. A wild ride comes to an end

Whatever happens, the players, the fans and the whole country will always have the historic 2-1 win over Argentina. It was the biggest story of the first round of games at the tournament and it really brought the World Cup to life. Unlike 2018 when the international football community barely realized that Saudi Arabia had been in Russia at all, the Asian powerhouse were talked about in all corners of the planet.

It was unfortunate that there were no more points to come. Saudi Arabia played well against Poland and did not deserve to lose 2-0, and perhaps did not really deserve to lose at all. When the dust settles, there will be an unending debate as to what would have happened had Salem Al-Dawsari’s penalty late in the first half had not been saved by Wojciech Szczesny (though the Al-Hilal star is in good company as Lionel Messi suffered the same fate on Wednesday). We will never know but there is no doubt that Saudi Arabia and their legions of fans can leave Qatar with their heads held very high.

Mexico were the better team and deserved to win but it was fitting that the campaign ended with a well-worked goal from Al-Dawsari deep inside injury time. Saudi Arabia helped give the world another remarkable and exciting game.

2. Injuries and suspensions were costly in the end

It was almost forgotten amid the thrills of that Argentina win that captain Salman Al-Faraj joined the celebrations on crutches and fullback Yasser Al-Shahrani was carried off in the final moments.

Key midfielder Abdulelah Al-Malki was suspended after picking up two yellow cards. It was then a major blow as central defender Ali Al-Bulaihi went off with what looked to be a hamstring injury. Who knows? Had the Al-Hilal man, who went off after being pushed, been on the pitch then the corner from which Mexico scored their opening goal may have been cleared.

There was nothing that anyone could have done about the Chavez free kick. It was a special set piece that will surely not be bettered at this World Cup, even if it was a pointless foul to give away. In the end, Mexico were too good and Saudi Arabia too depleted and too tired. Had coach Renard had a full and fit contingent of players to pick from, then surely the final game would have been closer. The boss did not have the deepest of squads to call upon when compared with some others and was always going to struggle once injuries and suspensions kicked in.

3. Salem Al-Dawsari a star, Kanno catches the eye

For a number of years, Arab News has waxed lyrical about the talents of the 31-year-old Salem Al-Dawsari and now everyone agrees. The Al-Hilal man caught the eye from the get-go and has been hailed around the world.

His goal against Argentina did not just win the game but was a beautiful strike in its own right. His technique and silky skills have played their part in making the World Cup an exciting one as he has shown that there is exciting talent in Saudi Arabia. The only negative is that he is on the wrong side of 30. But the 2026 World Cup is not that far away and now that he has equaled Sami Al-Jaber’s World Cup tally of three goals, he may want more.

Midfielder Mohamed Kanno also caught the eye of the international audience with his energy, running and ability to break up play. It was impressive for a player who has had little playing time at club level in recent months.

There were others too who made a name for themselves and they leave Qatar with reputations enhanced and in need of a well-deserved rest.

4. The World Cup will miss Saudi Arabia

It wasn’t just the win against Argentina that ignited the tournament, it was the presence of the tens of thousands of Saudi Arabian fans that created a magnificent atmosphere. As hosts Qatar struggled on the pitch, it almost felt like the games were being hosted over the border in Riyadh, Jeddah or Dammam. In every game, the fans came to fill the stadiums and create the sort of buzz and excitement that every tournament needs.

They came to support their team and were rewarded with some unforgettable experiences and moments. There is still a lot of football to be played and while the Green Falcons were eliminated in the first round, if there was a tournament for best fans then the country would be going all the way to the final.

The fans have given the world a taste of Saudi Arabian football culture and passion just as the team have done on the pitch and that is what the World Cup is all about.

5. Mexico’s elimination means more history for Saudi Arabia

It was always going to be the case that Mexico were much improved from their first two games against Poland, a goalless draw, and a 2-0 loss to Argentina. They had failed to score and failed to impress. There was much more invention, energy and ambition in this game, as you would expect as they were in a do-or-die situation.

El Tri were on top in the first half and played much of the second half in sight of the Saudi Arabian goal. They had plenty of chances to get the additional goal that would have been enough to take them past Poland into second place.

The Green Falcons have helped make history. Mexico last failed to get past the group stage in 1978. Saudi Arabia may have lost but they did, in a way, eliminate the CONCACAF powerhouse at the first round for the first time since the previous century. Saudi Arabia leave in good company after taking part in another thrilling match.


Green Falcons depart the World Cup with bittersweet memories of Lusail Stadium

Green Falcons depart the World Cup with bittersweet memories of Lusail Stadium
Updated 01 December 2022

Green Falcons depart the World Cup with bittersweet memories of Lusail Stadium

Green Falcons depart the World Cup with bittersweet memories of Lusail Stadium
  • Despite exiting Qatar 2022 at the site of their historic victory over Argentina, the Saudi players and supporters showed why they will be badly missed at the tournament

DOHA: Saudi Arabia will leave this World Cup having developed a love-hate relationship with Lusail Stadium. This striking architectural masterpiece is where their World Cup sprang to life in sensational fashion with that stunning win over Argentina in their opening game, which will be remembered for generations.

Sadly, after losing to Poland in game two, they could not follow up the triumph over Argentina with victory against Mexico in game three, and so it was that at Lusail Stadium on Wednesday their campaign came to a somewhat anticlimactic end.

But both before and after the game the Saudi fans showed why they will be so badly missed during the remainder of the tournament. Despite the defeat, they were in joyous spirits after the game, spilling out onto Lusail Boulevard to celebrate what was their modern footballing coming of age.

Walking — or should that be running — to Lusail Stadium before the game in a mad dash after witnessing Australia make history at Al-Janoub Stadium, one could be forgiven for thinking there were as many fans outside as inside.

Lusail Boulevard was looking resplendent as ever, with the flags of the competing nations flying overhead as tens of thousands of fans mingled and the match got underway.

As I arrived shortly after kick-off, the screams and cheers could be heard some distance from the stadium, leaving one to wonder what exactly was happening and which set of fans were making all the noise. As numerous and vocal as the Saudi fans were, the Mexican fans matched anything they had to offer.

There was so much green inside Lusail that it was hard to know which team had the greatest support because, once again, the atmosphere generated by both sets of fans was incredible.

Despite their win over Argentina and an impressive showing against Poland in defeat, the Green Falcons were under the pump for most of the first half against a Mexican side that clearly meant business. Mexico knew they needed goals to have any hope of advancing and they came out with only one intent.

Missing a host of first-team regulars, victory was always going to be a tall order for Herve Renard’s side and that is exactly how the first half played out. The Green Falcons managed few advances into the forward third of the pitch, at least few that threatened, and so the biggest cheers were reserved for lunging tackles and desperate saves.

Still, at the break the Saudis were still alive. While the score remained 0-0 they stood a chance, and with Salem Al-Dawsari there is always reason to be optimistic.

Lusail Stadium has instantly become an iconic World Cup Stadium. From its stunning, shimmering gold facade to the steep banks of seats in the grandstands that have the near-90,000 fans sitting right on top of the action, it will provide an incredible setting for the final in a little over two weeks.

But tonight, Mexico did to Saudi Arabia what the Saudis did to Argentina on matchday one, scoring two goals in a four-minute spell inside of the opening 10 minutes of the second half that ended the contest and silenced the normally vociferous Saudi fans.

But while those wearing Saudi green had lost their voice, those in Mexican green had found theirs. Beating drums, screaming chants, waving flags; the Mexican fans brought Lusail Stadium to life and the party did not end with the full-time whistle.

The great shame for the rest of the tournament is that both teams were eliminated, because the World Cup has lost two of its most passionate sets of fans.

But as the party continued on Lusail Boulevard long after full time we were reminded that the World Cup is not only about success on the pitch — it is also about the experience, the atmosphere and uniting the world.

As I looked around at the Saudi fans in Mexican hats, and fans from all over the world mingling and sharing the experience, I’m reminded that tonight there truly were no losers.