Overjoyed fans erupted in celebration around the Arab world Tuesday after Saudi Arabia’s shocking World Cup win over Argentina.
From Syria and Jordan to Gaza and Qatar — host of this year’s World Cup — fans basked in Saudi Arabia’s achievement, one of the biggest upsets in the tournament’s history.
Immediately after their team’s 2-1 come-from-behind victory, Saudi fans who witnessed the match in person flooded the streets outside Lusail Stadium waving their country’s green and white flags while chanting and singing — and even hugging distraught Argentina fans.
“I’m speechless,” Saudi Arabia fan Sultan Al-harthi said. “I can’t even explain how much happy I am, because I didn’t expect we will win.
Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, attended the match, and at one point wrapped a Saudi flag over his shoulders. The mo-ment, captured in online video 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 war-torn country’s rebel stronghold, residents gathered at cafes cheered and celebrated after the final whistle. It was a pleasant change for the enclave, where millions suffer from frequent airstrikes and poverty.
In the city of Idlib, 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 achieve things on a global stage,” Al-Absi, an Ar-gentina fan, told The Associated Press. “We’re dreaming of better futures as Arabs, and this morale boosts reminds us that nothing is impossible.”
In the streets of Amman, Jordan, dozens of Saudi nationals and Jordanians celebrated in the streets, carrying Saudi flags or placing them on their cars and blaring their horns.
And in Gaza, Palestinian residents rejoiced, say-ing they stood with Saudi Arabia in its moment of soccer glory. “They stand with us politically and socially, so these celebrations are sort of reciproca-tion,” said Gaza resident Abu Khalil.
In Saudi Arabia, King Salman announced a snap public holiday for all workers and students in the kingdom in celebration of the win.
People watching the match at a fan zone in the capital, Riyadh, jumped with joy and cheered as the game ended. Drivers honked their horns in celebra-tion. Saudi authorities also allowed free entry to a state-sponsored sports and entertainment festival.
The gravity of the victory will eventually sink in. Saudi Arabia is a team that had only ever won three World Cup matches in its history prior to Tuesday’s game. Argentina, which won the World Cup in 1978 and 1986, is — or was — one of the favorites this year.
“One for the books,” Saudi Arabia coach Hervé Renard said. “Sometimes things are completely crazy.”
Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais, who made two key saves late in the game, was almost subdued at the end, perhaps not grasping the magni-tude of the upset.
“I am very happy about this result that we have been able to obtain against this very storied team,” Alowais said solemnly. “We have prepared our-selves. We were 100% ready and hopefully we will have better results in the future.”
Despite trailing 1-0 at halftime after a 10th-minute goal from Lionel Messi, perhaps the greatest soccer player of all time, Saleh Alshehri and Salem Aldawsari managed to score a goal each early in the second half.—AP