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Saudi victory over Argentina unites the divided Middle East in celebration

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BEIRUT – The shock that reverberated around the world when Saudi Arabia defeated Argentina in the World Cup on Tuesday quickly turned into a wave of euphoric joy not only in the kingdom, but across the region.

The 2-1 scoreline was celebrated by Muslims and Arabs everywhere as a victory for them. In 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 teeming with avid, obsessive football fans who are particularly fond of South American teams. And now they had 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 victory for the history books

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

In fact, I would say this [Saudi] victory will have done more for regional unity than if the host country won its game – now there is regional buy-in, vested interests 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,” Amry told The Washington Post. “It has the power to bring people [together] from different countries and in different political contexts if nothing else. And when that incredible goal gave KSA a historic victory, the Qatar World Cup was truly celebrated as the World Cup of the Arab world,” 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 shock victory, Saudi Arabia defeated heavily favored Argentina 2-1 in a November 22 group stage match at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. (Video: The Washington Post)

Emotions ran particularly high around the Persian Gulf after Qatar’s ruler Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was filmed waving the Saudi flag around his shoulders – unthinkable just a few years ago in 2017, when a Saudi Arabian-led blockade severed diplomatic relations and transport links with Qatar. The air, land and sea blockade was not lifted until January 2021.

People tweeted the hashtag “Our Gulf is one” alongside photos of the leaders of the two countries, among other images including a snippet of an interview with goalkeeper Mohammed al-Owais, who said: “Today we play like Arabs on our land, and among our fans. This gives you an advantage over our opponents, whoever they are.”

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

In Lebanon, a journalist from Al Mayadeen, a news channel whose leanings are generally anti-Saudi, tweeted about the Saudi goalkeeper’s performance, saying he was “practically defending the Kaaba, not the goalposts,” referring to the sacred building that was honored. by all Muslims, located in the heart of the holy city of Makkah.

Saudi social media, however, was particularly joyful. Many public figures, including religious leaders, were quick to credit the victory 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 next to hashtags like “Our falcons are our pride” and “Our green edge over everyone.”

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

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

After the Saudi was upset, he replied pointing to his previous tweet on his prediction, and congratulated the team, the crown prince and others, including “the great Saudi people.” He too announced free entry for the rest of the day to fairgrounds and leisure complexes in Riyadh, such as Winter Wonderland and Boulevard World.

It was then announced that Wednesday will be a public holiday in Saudi Arabia.

Siobhán O’Grady in Cairo contributed to this report.

World Cup in Qatar

Live Updates: The World Cup continues on Tuesday in Qatar with four games, including one of the greatest players in history and the reigning champions who begin their title defense. Follow our live coverage, analysis and highlights.

USMT: On their return to the World Cup, the young Americans settled for a 1-1 draw against Wales in their Group B opener. The US men’s national team faces a bigger task on Friday against Group B favorites England, who beat Iran 6-2 earlier on Monday.

Qatar controversy: Soccer fans wearing the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusion, have said they were denied entry to World Cup stadiums and confronted by members of the public to remove the emblem, despite assurances from FIFA, the governing body of the football, that visitors would be allowed to freely identify themselves during the tournament in Qatar. According to Human Rights Watch, Qatari officials have arbitrarily arrested and assaulted LGBT people, in some cases as recently as last month.

Guide for groups: The US national soccer team, led by coach Gregg Berhalter and star striker Christian Pulisic, qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement on the disastrous and unsuccessful 2018 campaign. Here’s an up-close look at how all the teams in each group are doing.

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