LIONEL MESSI STRUGGLES IN STUNNING LOSS
Argentina suffered one of the greatest World Cup 2022 shocks of all time as they went down 2-1 to underdogs Saudi Arabia in Qatar.
The South American side were one of the pre-tournament favourites but endured the worst possible start to Lionel Messi’s quest to finally get a World Cup winners medal with a stunning loss.
Messi scored from the penalty spot early on but Saleh Al-Shehri squeezed in a low shot in the 48th minute while Salem Al-Dawsari curled in a scorching strike from the edge of the penalty area in the 53rd minute to leave Argentina looking utterly shell-shocked
Despite plenty of possession after that, Argentina were unable to find the all-important equaliser as they slipped to a stunning loss.
Emiliano Martinez – 5
Could he have done better with Saudi Arabia’s second goal? Got his hand to Al-Dawsari’s curling strike but couldn’t keep it out. Hadn’t really been tested before the Saudis’ opening goal, for which his defence were to blame, rather than him. Distribution was generally solid but for a player with such high standards, the second goal will rankle.
Cristian Romero – 4
Questions over his fitness heading into the game, having not played for Spurs for a month and did little to suggest he was at peak level. Nutmegged at one point in the first half, generally looked fallible and was completely outpaced by Al-Shehri for the first Saudi goal. Deservedly substituted just before the hour mark. Poor performance from a normally solid player.
Nicolas Tagliafico – 5
Part of the Argentina defence that folded like a pack of cards for the Saudi Arabia goals. Also missed a glorious opportunity to equalise when the ball just hit his knee a few yards out after a corner and Mohammed Al-Owais made a stunning save. Was subbed on 70 minutes.
Nicolas Otamendi – 5
Again, a crucial part of the Argentina defence that failed to cover themselves in glory. Slightly hamstrung by a struggling Romero alongside him at centre-back.
Nahuel Molina – 6
Decent enough in possession and linked up well with Di Maria in attack but has to be penalised for the goals his side conceded, although he was not directly at fault for them.
Alejandro Gomez – 5
Produced a great ball through for one of Martinez’s disallowed goals and showed a decent range of passing but failed to truly impact proceedings and was duly replaced on the hour mark.
Rodrigo De Paul – 6
A frustrating day for the Atletico Madrid man in the middle of the park. Skied a good shooting opportunity just before the break and wasn’t able to help the Argentina attack fire on all cylinders.
Leandro Paredes – 4
Showed some good touches, spreading the ball into the wide channels, but wasn’t hugely effective. Did win Argentina the penalty from which they scored, although that was more to do with clumsy Saudi defending and overly-judicious officiating rather than anything he particularly did.
Lionel Messi – 5
Everything in the Argentina attack ran through the little talisman – for better or worse. Had his first shot just two minutes in, which forced a decent save but maybe could have done better. Calmly slotted home the penalty shortly after to score at a fourth World Cup but missed another glorious first-half chance and put a pass out of play when looking for Gomez at one point typified a slightly scratchy display. He will need to play better moving forward.
Lautaro Martinez – 4
Gorgeous finish on 22 minutes that was disallowed for the narrowest of offsides and then had another strike ruled out for the same reason. Struggled with the Saudi defence’s high line – hence the offsides – and Argentina would have hoped a striker of his quality could have adjusted his runs accordingly. A frustrating day.
Angel Di Maria – 6
Produced cross after cross after cross as he ran up and down the wing for Argentina. The fact that none led to a goal was partly on him and partly on his teammates on the end of the crosses. He looked dangerous but the lack of end product has to count against him.
Lisandro Martinez – 6
Shored up the Argentina defence when he replaced Romero on the hour mark and his header could easily have gone in off the knee of Tagliafico for the equaliser, if not for the brilliance of Al-Owais.
Enzo Fernandez – 5
His real chance to impact the game off the bench came when he headed a corner over on 75 minutes as Argentina sought an equaliser.
Julian Alvarez – 7
Looked lively off the bench as he had a number of shots but was unable to get the all-important equaliser. Saw a header cleared off the line and another saved by Al-Owais right at the death.
Marcos Acuna – 6