Saudi coach hits out at Argentina captain Lionel Messi and questions his motivation after stunning upset

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Saudi Arabia head coach Herve Renard believes Lionel Messi’s motivation wasn’t as high as it should have been ahead of the opening match of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Argentina.

Renard’s men took center stage on Tuesday (22 November) as they won one of the biggest World Cup upsets of all time. Trailing 1-0 after 10 minutes, the Green Falcons scored twice in five second-half minutes to end the Albiceleste’s 36-game unbeaten run dating back to 2019.

Speaking after the game, Renard questioned Lionel Messi’s motivation for games like this, saying (as quoted by GOAL):

“Imagine Lionel Messi playing against Saudi Arabia. He will say they have to start well and win, but you know the motivation is not like playing against Brazil. That’s normal.”

The former Morocco and Ivory Coast coach admitted the result was huge for Saudi Arabia. However, he also stressed the need to focus on their upcoming games, saying:

“We made history in Saudi football and it will be forever, that’s the most important thing, but we also have to look to the future because we still have two very difficult games to play.”

Their momentous victory over Argentina was commemorated by their king declaring November 23 a public holiday (via The Guardian). It was the first-ever victory for an Asian team on The Albiceleste at the World Cup after four previous failed attempts.

How exactly did Lionel Messi perform for Argentina against Saudi Arabia?

Lionel Messi was naturally expected to lead Argentina to victory in their first match of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Many thought Lionel Scaloni’s men had more than enough to beat Saudi Arabia.

Messi marked the game by converting a 10th-minute penalty to put his side ahead. The Paris Saint-Germain superstar had another goal ruled out for offside and saw the flag raised once again after assisting Lautaro Martinez, all in the first half.

However, Messi, like many of his teammates, seemingly withered after the two Saudi strikes. The Green Falcons surrounded him with defenders, drastically reducing his time on the ball, and he was unable to influence play as he would have liked. He also couldn’t force the opposing goalkeeper to make difficult saves.

Messi eventually finished the game with just two successful dribbles and three key passes, while completing 80% of his passes. Although his statline wasn’t a bad read, the Argentina captain couldn’t show off with the game on the line.

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By Peter Kavinsky

Peter Kavinsky is the Executive Editor at