The Arab world celebrates Saudi victory over Argentina at the World Cup

LUSAIL, Qatar (AP) — Overjoyed fans celebrated across the Arab world on Tuesday after the shocking World Cup in Saudi Arabia win against Argentina.

From Syria and Jordan to Gaza and Qatar – home to this year’s World Cup – fans have reveled in Saudi Arabia’s success, one of the world’s biggest upsets in the history of the tournament.

Immediately following their team’s 2-1 comeback victory, Saudi fans who witnessed the match in person flooded the streets outside Lusail Stadium waving their country’s green-and-white flags as they chanted and chant and even hugged the distraught Argentine fans.

“I am speechless,” said Saudi Arabian fan Sultan Alharthi. “I can’t even explain how happy I am, because I didn’t expect to win.

Qatar’s ruling Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, watched the match and at one point draped a Saudi flag around his shoulders. The moment, captured on video online and widely shared, would have been unthinkable nearly two years ago when Saudi Arabia and three other Arab nations boycotted Qatar over a political dispute.

In northwestern Syria, the rebel stronghold of the war-torn country, residents gathered in cafes who cheered and cheered after the final whistle. It has been a welcome change for the enclave, where millions suffer from frequent airstrikes and poverty.

In Idlib city, 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 seeing his favorite soccer team lose.

“It shows that we have talented people who can perform on a global stage,” Al-Absi, an Argentina fan, told the Associated Press. “We are dreaming of a better future as Arabs, and this boost in morale reminds us that nothing is impossible.”

In the streets of Amman, Jordan, dozens of Saudi and Jordanian nationals celebrated in the streets, carrying Saudi flags or placing them on their cars and honking their horns.

And in Gaza, Palestinian residents rejoiced, saying they stood by Saudi Arabia in its moment of footballing glory. “They are with us politically and socially, so these celebrations are a kind of reciprocity,” said Abu Khalil, a Gaza resident.

In Saudi Arabia, King Salman has announced a public holiday for all workers and students in the kingdom to celebrate his victory.

People watching the match in a fan zone in the capital, Riyadh, jumped for joy and cheered at the end of the match. Drivers honked their horns in celebration. Saudi authorities have also allowed free admission to a state-sponsored sports and entertainment festival.

The gravity of victory will eventually sink. Saudi Arabia are a team that had won just three World Cup matches in their history prior to Tuesday’s game. Argentina, who won the World Cup in 1978 and 1986, are – or were – 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 vital late-game saves, was nearly subdued at the end, perhaps missing the scale of the upset.

“I am very happy with this result that we managed to achieve against this very historic team,” said Alowais solemnly. “We have prepared. We were 100% ready and hope to get better results 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 each managed one goal early in the second half.

Then came 50-plus minutes, including injury time at the end of the game at the referee’s discretion, or holding off one of the tournament favourites.

“All the stars have aligned for us,” said Renard, who won the Africa Cup of Nations as Zambia manager in 2012 and then again with Ivory Coast in 2015.

Renard also coached Angola and Morocco, which he led to the 2018 World Cup in Russia. He took control of Saudi Arabia in 2019.

“We made history in Saudi football,” Renard said. “It will remain forever. This is the most important. But we must also think about looking ahead because we still have two very very difficult games for us.”

Renard said he has asked his players to limit the celebration after the game to 20 minutes.

“That’s all,” he said. “But there are still two games – or more.”

They are yet to play Poland on Saturday and then face Mexico next Tuesday in Group C. Both are likely still favorites against Saudi Arabia, despite the upset.

He also hinted at another possible truth: Messi and Argentina probably underestimated Saudi Arabia, which is only No. 51 in the FIFA rankings. Argentina is no. 3.

“But you know the motivation is not like you’re playing against Brazil,” he added.

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Isabel DeBre and Jon Gambrell in Doha and Kareem Chehayeb in Beirut contributed to this report.

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup And https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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