Photo by [The Times of Israel]
In their opening game, Saudi Arabia, the lowest-ranked team in Group C, managed to secure a victory over one of the tournament favorites and the highest-ranked team in the group, Argentina.
However, despite a spirited performance against Poland, Saudi Arabia could not replicate the same feat they did in their first group match.
The Middle Eastern country lost 2-0 to the Poles on Saturday, with Robert Lewandowski scoring his first tournament goal.
This year’s FIFA World Cup has been one of many upsets. Japan defeated 2014 champions Germany and Morocco beat the second-best team in the world, Belgium. But none has proven more significant than Argentina’s defeat to Saudi Arabia.
As a result, the King of Saudi Arabia announced the following day would be a public holiday to commemorate the team’s victory over the South American giants. In addition, the Saudi monarch rewarded each player with a brand-new Rolls Royce.
Build Up to the Match
According to Mohammed Jibran Khan, a producer at Haramain Sharifain based in Riyadh, before the national team left for the tournament, the Crown Prince of Saudi met with them and offered words of encouragement.
The public holiday was announced before Saudi’s opening group match. Khan said people in the public sector were happy about the decision, as they could go home and watch the game.
“During the match [it’s as if the country came to a] standstill. People were at their homes, with the people they loved to watch the match”.
Saudi Arabia’s Football Investments
In recent years Saudi Arabia has been evolving into a passionate footballing nation. The Crown Prince himself is passionate about the sport. He has pledged to improve sporting facilities for the national team and citizens interested in football.
Before the game, there were nerves initially, but according to Khan, the overall atmosphere in the country was “powerful”. And with all the improvements in training facilities, everyone expected the team to do well in Qatar.
However, during the match, Khan said, “they were preparing themselves to lose. But the tide turned, the Saudis scored two goals against Argentina, and the GOAT of all time, Lionel Messi, was defeated … It was unexpected truly, [the] excitement which came over the country, and as a result, we can see what it is today”.
Saudi Arabia has much larger ambitions. As a return on their investments, the country aims to become the Middle East’s sporting centre. Khan said they might even bid to become the tournament’s hosts in the future.
“Saudi Arabia is definitely preparing itself to become the sporting centre and not just for being the sporting centre but also for its national team [to reach] the top”.