Where does Saudi Arabia 2, Argentina 1 rank in a history of sports upsets? – Grid News


Where does Saudi Arabia 2, Argentina 1 rank in a history of sports upsets?

When the final whistle blew, there was frenzy on one side of the pitch and agony on the other; there were celebrations in Riyadh and tears in Buenos Aires. And for even the occasional soccer fans around the world, there was disbelief. Saudi Arabia just wasn’t supposed to beat Argentina, at the 2022 World Cup or in any other soccer match. It wouldn’t even be close.

But there it was, the final: Saudi Arabia 2, Argentina 1. And there was the legendary Argentine captain, Lionel Messi, head in his hands. A few hours later, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia decreed that Wednesday, the day after, would be a public holiday.

Beyond all the emotional reactions, the result also provoked a trip down memory lane, and a quick visit to sports websites to help put this in perspective: Where does “Saudi Arabia 2, Argentina 1″ rank in terms of all-time unlikely sports headlines?

Sticking with “the beautiful game” for starters, there are at least two matches that deserve a mention. Let’s start with a nod to the 1950 U.S. World Cup team.


That American squad was given no chance to beat powerhouse England on a June day in Brazil, when they fielded part-time players against an English team loaded with well-known professionals. The U.S. came in having lost their last seven matches by a cumulative 45-2 margin. England’s odds to win the 1950 World Cup were 3-1; the Americans’ were 500-1.

The final that day? U.S. 1, England 0.

Sixteen years later, England won the cup, but there was another result that year that was truly bizarre: North Korea 1, Italy 0. The Italians were European juggernauts, the North Koreans the doormat of the group (and almost kept from the tournament entirely, for political reasons). Or so everyone thought, before they took to the pitch. As Gary Thacker recalled for “These Football Times,” that was the day when a 24-year-old midfielder named Pak Doo-ik knocked in the only goal of the match, and thus “became the answer to so many football trivia quiz questions.”

As for other historic upsets on the stages of other sports, it’s a fun list to consider. Choosing a few might start an argument or two — but here goes.

Strangely, two of the greatest examples (my humble opinion here) came in a single year, with a New York team besting a Baltimore team both times. That would have been the 1969 “Miracle Mets,” who weren’t supposed to land anywhere near the Major League Baseball playoffs that year and wound up winning the National League pennant and then taking four of five games from the Baltimore Orioles to win the World Series. 1969 was also the year that New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath made what was widely considered an outlandish public guarantee: The Jets would win the Super Bowl. And on a January afternoon, Namath and his Jets made good on the promise. Final there: Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7.


But for sheer, that-didn’t-just-happen! improbability, you probably want to consider a pair of Olympic contests between the United States and the Soviet Union.

In 1972, the U.S. men’s basketball team, winners of 63 games in a row and the previous seven Olympic gold medals, marched into the Summer Games anticipating an easy ride to another gold. Only they lost a 51-50 decision to the Soviet team. A half-century later, that game is still controversial; questionable officiating led to the last seconds being replayed three times and subsequent charges that the fix was in. But 51-50 it was; the Soviets took the gold.

And then, of course, there was the “Miracle on Ice.” You could almost flip the expectations of that 1972 basketball contest; in 1980, the idea that a bunch of unheralded American ice hockey players could skate with the powerhouse, four-time defending Olympic champions from the Soviet Union — well, that made no sense at all. American fans watched, hoping their side wouldn’t be embarrassed.

The result of that game, played on Feb. 22, 1980, belongs at or near the top of the upset list. The final at Lake Placid, New York, was U.S. 4, Soviet Union 3. It was remarkable enough to become the subject of a documentary, a feature film and endless ink spilled in sports and general publications. And here we are, still writing about it today.

So, Argentina and Saudi Arabia have company. And reminders that — whatever the expectations — you still have to play the games. Meanwhile, for all you fans of Messi and his brilliant Argentine team, take solace in this: One of the honorable mentions to the list happened at the 1990 World Cup, when Cameroon stunned Messi’s predecessors, 1-0. No doubt the Argentines had their heads in their hands on that day as well. But here’s the good news: Argentina got through the group stage that year — and they wound up in the World Cup final.

Thanks to Lillian Barkley for copy editing this article.

  • Tom Nagorski
    Tom Nagorski

    Global Editor

    Tom Nagorski is the global editor at Grid, where he oversees our coverage of global security, U.S.-China relations, migration trends, global economics and U.S. foreign policy.