The day began like a dream for Argentina, when a video referral saw the referee awarding Messi & Co a penalty in the 10th minute, and Messi put his team ahead 1-0.
With that penalty strike, Messi also became the first Argentine to score in four different World Cups.
Saudi Arabia beat Argentina. @adidasfootball | #FIFAWorldCup
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) 1669118839000
But Saudi Arabia returned from half-time and shocked the South Americans to take a 2-1 lead, with brilliant individual goals from Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari.
Before that, in the opening exchanges, the referee spotted a foul on video and signalled towards the spot, as the South Americans dominated but had three goals disallowed.
Messi, playing in his fifth World Cup finals at 35, beat Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais on a breakaway but that goal and two others by team-mate Lautaro Martinez were ruled offside.
Down 0-1 at half-time, Saudi Arabia came back with Al-Shehri squeezed in a low shot in the 48th minute while Al-Dawsari curled in a scorching strike from the edge of the penalty area in the 53rd minute to leave tournament favourites Argentina, looking shell-shocked.
Despite plenty of possession after that, Argentina were unable to penetrate Saudi Arabia, who were competing in their sixth World Cup but had never previously won an opening game.
The entire game was played in an extraordinary atmosphere at the Lusail Stadium, with Argentina’s traditionally massive and raucous following matched by the thousands of Saudis who had come over the border to cheer on their team.
“Our team fulfils our dreams!” and “Where is Messi? We beat him!”, the green-clad Saudis chanted over and over in the Lusail Stadium, on their feet and greeting every clearance from their defence with a deafening roar.
Both teams have Mexico and Poland to come, with Argentina needing an immediate reaction if Messi is to have a realistic chance of matching Diego Maradona’s immortality in his homeland by bringing home the World Cup.
The result broke Argentina’s amazing 36-match undefeated run and stopped them from matching the previous international record of 37 games unbeaten held by Italy.
The Argentina loss rivals other World Cup upsets like Senegal’s 1-0 win over titleholder France 1-0 in the 2002 tournament opener and the United States beating England by the same score in 1950.
(With inputs from Agencies)