Saudi World Cup win over Argentina unites divided Middle East in celebration


BEIRUT — The shock that reverberated around the world when Saudi Arabia beat Argentina in Tuesday’s World Cup upset quickly turned to a wave of euphoric joy not just in the kingdom, but across the region.

The 2-1 score was celebrated by Muslims and Arabs everywhere as win for them. Across the United States, Europe, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East people found pride and joy in the Saudi underdog beating a famously much stronger team.

The Arab world in particular witnessed a rare moment of shared ecstasy. The fragmented region is brimming with avid, obsession-level football fans who are particularly enamored with South American teams. And now they just witnessed the incredible spectacle of one of their own nations beating the team whose jerseys are must-have fashion items for their children.

Saudi Arabia shocks Argentina with a World Cup upset for the history books

Hend Amry, a popular Muslim voice on Twitter, noted how the win is celebrated by Arabs “regardless of regional politics.”

“In fact I’d say this [Saudi] win will have done more for regional unity than if the host country won its game—now there’s regional buy-in, vested interest and identification of national pride with a tournament hosted by a rival,” she wrote.

“This win was an opportunity to remember why football is such a dynamic force in the Middle East,” she told the Post. “It has the power to bring people from different nations and across different political contexts like nothing else. And when that unbelievable goal clinched a historic win for KSA, Qatar’s World Cup was truly celebrated as the Arab World’s World Cup,” she said, using an abbreviation for Saudi Arabia.

She also noted that since their reconciliation Saudi Arabia and Qatar would be better described as “former” rivals.

In a shocking upset victory, Saudi Arabia beat heavily favored Argentina 2-1 in a Nov. 22 group stage game at the 2022 Qatar World Cup. (Video: The Washington Post)

Emotions ran especially high around the Persian Gulf after Qatar’s ruler, Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, was filmed waving the Saudi flag around his shoulders — unimaginable just a few years ago in 2017, when a Saudi-led blockade severed diplomatic relations and transport links with Qatar. The air, land and sea blockade was only lifted in January 2021.

People tweeted the hashtag “Our Gulf is one” alongside the photos of the two leaders, among other images, including a clip of an interview with goalkeeper Mohammed al-Owais saying, “today, as Arabs, we are playing on our land, and among our fans. This gives you an advantage on our opponents, whoever they may be.”

In Egypt, a popular news website sent an emailed a newsletter titled “Good on ya, Saudi,” telling its subscribers that today they are “working with big grins on our faces after Saudi’s shock 2-1 victory against Argentina in the first of today’s World Cup matches.”

In Lebanon, a journalist with Al Mayadeen, a news channel whose leanings are generally anti-Saudi, tweeted about the performance of the Saudi goalkeeper, saying he was “practically defending the Kaaba not the goal posts,” referring to the holy building revered by all Muslims, located in the heart of the holy city of Mecca.

Saudi social media, however, was especially in a joyous uproar. Many public figures such as religious leaders were quick to ascribe the win to the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the de facto ruler, in addition to thanking his father, King Salman.

But the real celebrities were the team members themselves, especially the goalkeeper. Saudis posted their photos alongside hashtags such as “Our Falcons are our pride” and “Our green ahead of all.”

Fan videos of player Salem al-Dawsari scoring the winning goal at 53 minutes peppered Saudi social media accounts, overlaid with love ballads and live commentary from Arab football announcers — many of whom are celebrities of their own right, famous for their impressively overwrought prose and explosive energy.

Turki al-Sheikh, chairman of Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Entertainment and a close adviser two the crown prince, had tweeted a photo two days before the match of Argentinian fans, hands half-covering their faces as they nervously watched a game. “Soon,” the caption read.

After the Saudi upset, he replied to his previous tweet pointing out his prediction, and congratulated the team, the crown prince, and others including “the great Saudi people.” He also announced free access for the remainder of the day to Riyadh-based carnivals and recreational complexes such as Winter Wonderland and Boulevard World.

Subsequently it was announced that Wednesday will be a public holiday in Saudi Arabia.

Siobhan O’Grady in Cairo contributed to this report.

World Cup in Qatar

Live updates: The World Cup continues in Qatar on Tuesday with four games that include one of history’s greatest players and the reigning champion beginning its title defense. Follow our live coverage, analysis and highlights.

USMNT: In their return to the World Cup, the young Americans settled for a 1-1 draw against Wales in their Group B opener. The U.S. men’s national team will face a taller task Friday against Group B favorite England, which demolished Iran, 6-2, earlier Monday.

Qatar controversy: Soccer fans wearing the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusivity, have said they were refused entry into World Cup stadiums and confronted by members of the public to remove the emblem, despite assurances from FIFA, soccer’s governing body, that visitors would be allowed to freely express their identities during the tournament in Qatar. Qatari officials have arbitrarily arrested and mistreated LGBT people, in some cases as recently as last month, according to Human Rights Watch.

Groups guide: The U.S. men’s national soccer team, led by Coach Gregg Berhalter and star forward Christian Pulisic, qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement from its disastrous and unsuccessful 2018 campaign. Here’s a close look at how all of the teams in each group stack up.

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