RIYADH.- The Saudis, still incredulous, formed impromptu dance circles and waved the national flag out of the windows of cars speeding through the capital Riyadh on Tuesday, after his team’s sensational win over Lionel Messi’s Argentina.
When the final whistle blew with a score of 2-1 In the match that ended Argentina’s 36-game unbeaten streak, fans watching on a giant screen in a Riyadh stadium were quick to celebrate.
“Nothing is impossible for Saudi Arabia… The future is here and we are the future”said Tareq al-Shammari, 35, at Mrsool Park stadium.
“We have people who love football and we love it,” said Sultan, another fan, dressed in a white tunic and green and white scarf. “We are investing in infrastructure and we have all the capacity to compete with European countries.”
Few could predict that Herve Renard’s ‘Green Hawks’, ranked 51st in the world, They were going to unseat the two-time world champion led by star Leo Messi, who has seven Ballon d’Ors to his credit.
The scenes of jubilation, in which some fans wiped tears with their green Saudi banners, contrasted with the subdued atmosphere of the first part, in which Messi scored a penalty and Argentina had three goals disallowed for offside. But the public cheered up three minutes into the second half, when the Saudis leveled thanks to a goal from Saleh Al-Shehri.
Celebrations erupted after Salem Al-Dawsari gave the ‘Green Hawks’ a surprising lead five minutes later, and the Saudi fans cheered every save as goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais sealed his goal until the final whistle. “I am so, so, so happy,” said a Saudi fan named Bayan. “Nobody from Saudi Arabia expected this, but they did it.”
Riyadh prepared for an all-night party, as congratulations poured in from senior Saudi officials. King Salman of Saudi Arabia himself announced that Wednesday will be a holiday in the country for all employees in the public and private sectorsas well as for male and female students of all educational levels.
Turki al-Sheikh, adviser to the Royal Court and director of the Saudi Arabian General Entertainment Authority, announced on Twitter that on Tuesday entrance fees would be waived at the city’s major theme parks and entertainment centers.
Messi is no stranger in Saudi Arabia, where he was named the kingdom’s tourism ambassador in its bid to attract tourists from abroad. Nevertheless, the Saudis on Twitter were quick to gloat over the defeat of ‘The Flea’with a meme that showed a man in a white coat roasting a goat – which represented Messi, nicknamed GOAT (Best of all time, in English) – over a bonfire.
Saudi Arabian officials were quick to see the victory as a triumph for the reform program of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has bet on sports to try to improve the kingdom’s image abroad.
This push, which includes a controversial new golf league, boxing and Formula 1, sparked accusations of “sports laundering”, or using these events to divert attention from human rights abuses.
In his commitment to sports and football, the kingdom is in talks with Egypt and Greece to submit a joint bid to host the World Cup in 2030, as stated by an Egyptian official earlier this year.