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World reacts to Saudi Arabia’s ‘unexpected’ World Cup win against Argentina

Saudi Arabia has declared Wednesday a national holiday, as the Kingdom celebrates its seismic 2-1 World Cup win over Lionel Messi’s Argentina.

The public holiday will be for all state employees “and the private sector, and male and female students in all educational stages”, the government announced.

Ahead of the match, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told the national team: “All I want to tell you is stay relaxed, play your game and do your thing.” 

Few believed that this was just another game, this was a nation-building moment, a chance to turn a tide.

Universities were given the afternoon off for students to watch the game. City streets were almost abandoned. Women joined men in many cafes and restaurants to experience one of the most unlikely victories in World Cup history.

There was disbelief and sadness in Argentina as the final whistle went nearly 14,000 kilometres away in Qatar. 

The Argentinian football magazine Olé lamented what it called “a world-wide whammy”.

Overjoyed fans erupted in celebration around the Arab world on Tuesday after the win.

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 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 Alharthi said. “I can’t even explain how much happy I am, because I didn’t expect we will win.”

In northwestern Syria, the war-torn country’s opposition 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 favourite football team lose.

“It shows that we have talented people who can achieve things on a global stage,” Al Absi, an Argentina fan, told The Associated Press news agency. “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 besieged Gaza, Palestinian residents rejoiced, saying they stood with Saudi Arabia in its moment of football glory. 

“They stand with us politically and socially, so these celebrations are sort of reciprocation,” said resident Abu Khalil.

Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, also tweeted congratulations.

Meanwhile, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, briefly draped himself in the Saudi flag.

Prior to Tuesday’s game, Saudi Arabia was a team that had only ever won three World Cup matches in its history. 

Argentina, which won the World Cup in 1978 and 1986, is – or was – one of the favourites this year.

“One for the books,” Saudi Arabia coach Hervé Renard said. “Sometimes things are completely crazy.”

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