LUSAIL, Qatar (AP) – Overjoyed fans erupted in celebrations across the Arab world on Tuesday after the shocking World Cup in Saudi Arabia Victory over Argentina.
From Syria and Jordan to Gaza and Qatar – hosts of this year’s World Cup – fans basked in Saudi Arabia’s performance, one of the biggest surprises in tournament history.
Immediately after their team’s 2-1 victory, Saudi fans who witnessed the game in person flooded the streets outside the Lusail Stadium, waving their country’s green and white flags, chanting and chanting – and even hugging distraught Argentinian fans.
“I’m speechless,” said Saudi Arabia fan Sultan Alharthi. “I can’t even explain how happy I am because I didn’t expect us to win.
The ruling Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, attended the game and once wrapped a Saudi flag over his shoulders. The moment, captured in online video and widely shared, would have been unthinkable almost two years ago when Saudi Arabia and three other Arab nations boycotted Qatar over a political dispute.
In north-west Syria, the war-torn country’s rebel stronghold, residents gathered in cafes, cheered and partied after the final whistle. It was a pleasant change of pace for the enclave where millions suffer from frequent air raids and poverty.
In the city of Idlib, Ahmad Al-Absi said Saudi Arabia’s victory was a much-needed morale boost for Syrians and Arabs across the Middle East, even if it meant his favorite soccer team would lose.
“It shows that we have talented people who can make things happen on a global scale,” Al-Absi, an Argentina fan, told The Associated Press. “We dream of a brighter future as Arabs, and this morale boost reminds us that nothing is impossible.”
In the streets of Amman, Jordan, dozens of Saudi nationals and Jordanians partied in the streets, carrying Saudi flags or placing them on their cars and honking their horns.
And in Gaza, Palestinian residents rejoiced and said they stood by Saudi Arabia in its moment of football glory. “They stand with us politically and socially, so these celebrations are a kind of quid pro quo,” said Abu Khalil from Gaza.
In Saudi Arabia, King Salman announced a public holiday for all workers and students in the kingdom to celebrate the victory.
People watching the game at a fan zone in the capital, Riyadh, jumped for joy and cheered when the game ended. Drivers honk their horns in celebration. Saudi authorities also granted free entry to a state-sponsored sports and entertainment festival.
The severity of victory will eventually make itself known. Saudi Arabia is a team that has won just three World Cup matches in their history ahead of Tuesday’s game. Argentina, world champions in 1978 and 1986, is – or was – one of the favorites this year.
“One for the books,” said Saudi Arabia coach Hervé Renard. “Sometimes things are completely crazy.”
Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais, who made two key saves late in the game, was almost subdued at the end, perhaps not realizing the extent of the surprise.
“I’m very happy about this result, which we were able to achieve against this very traditional team,” said Alowais solemnly. “We have prepared. We were 100% ready and we hope to do better in the future.”
Despite trailing 1-0 at half-time after a 10th-minute goal from Lionel Messi, perhaps the greatest footballer of all time, Saleh Alshehri and Salem Aldawsari both managed to score early in the second half.
It then took more than 50 minutes, including overtime at the end of the game at the referee’s discretion, to keep one of the tournament favorites at bay.
“All the stars were on us,” said Renard, who won the Africa Cup of Nations with Zambia in 2012 and Ivory Coast in 2015.
Renard has also coached Angola and Morocco, whom he led to the 2018 World Cup in Russia. In 2019 he took over Saudi Arabia.
“We made history for Saudi football,” said Renard. “This will stay forever. That’s the most important. But we also have to think about looking ahead because we still have two games that are very, very difficult for us.”
Renard said he asked his players to limit the post-game celebration to 20 minutes.
“That’s all,” he said. “But there are still two games left – or more.”
They still have to play Poland on Saturday and face Mexico in Group C next Tuesday. Both are likely still favorites against Saudi Arabia – despite the upset.
He also hinted at another possible truth: Messi and Argentina would probably have underestimated Saudi Arabia, which is only 51st in the FIFA rankings. Argentina is No. 3.
“But you know the motivation isn’t like playing Brazil,” he added.
Isabel DeBre and Jon Gambrell in Doha and Kareem Chehayeb in Beirut contributed to this report.
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