HORROR AND PAIN
Defeat to Saudi Arabia sends ripples of shock and disbelief through Argentina’s global fan community
Argentina forward and Captain Lionel Messi is crestfallen after his team was shocked by Saudi Arabia in their Qatar 2022 World Cup Group C match at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, north of Doha, on Tuesday. Saudi Arabia won 2-1. Argentina are considered a favourite to raise the title. (Photo: AFP)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AFP) — Gasps gave way to stony expressions of disbelief, and then tears, as Argentina fans gathered in Buenos Aires watched the humiliation of their football team unfold at the World Cup in Qatar.

"It was a walloping, a bucket of ice-cold water," Carlos Cuera, 26, said of the 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia.

He was still seated in front of a cafe television where fans decked out in their team's white-and-blue colours gathered from before 7:00 am for the breakfast match in the Argentine capital.

"Nobody expected this. We thought the first three matches would be easy victories, and now it has become more complicated," he said, adding the loss had ramped up pressure ahead of Saturday's duel with Mexico.

It was one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history for Lionel Messi's Argentina side, ending a winning streak that included last year's Copa America championship.

The proud, football-crazed nation entered the World Cup among the favourites, eight years after they reached the final.

But Buenos Aires quickly resumed its normal hustle and bustle as desolate fans headed to their offices.

In central Corrientes Street, not far from the city's towering Obelisk, one cafe had set up a screen on the sidewalk, prompting deliverymen, taxis, and even bus drivers to slow as they passed — hoping for another goal.

Pilates instructor Lena Widgren, 50, said she had heard it would be "an easy game".

But she had noticed that whenever Argentina is faced with a tie or a loss in a World Cup match, "their energy levels drop a bit, they lack fire".

The day started better than it ended. Fans leaped from their chairs, screaming with joy, when Messi scored from the penalty spot in the 10th minute.

"I feel very sad, really. The game started with such euphoria, with so much desire to win, and suddenly the game turned around," said Llanca Salvi, a 26-year-old plastic artist, who added that she did not know much about football.

But it was about "the emotion of being Argentine, of going out to celebrate".

Fans joined in with a cascade of insults when three first-half goals were canceled for being offside, with VAR involved. Norberto Protzmann told AFP he sat in "terror" during the second half.

"We underestimated them a little too much and they dominated us in the second half," he said.

"The players were too confident, whereas the rival team put their lives into each move, because they knew they were facing a great team. And it worked well for them."

Gustavo Leal, 75, complained about the use of VAR, saying, "football with technology is no longer football".

"This World Cup needs [Diego] Maradona," he said, referring to the Argentine great who died in 2020.

But he remained optimistic.

"The first match is as hard as the last. I trust him," he said of coach Lionel Scaloni, adding he was a "measured guy who knows how to lead the team".

Now, all eyes are on Saturday's game against Mexico, to see whether the team can turn their fortunes around.

"Mexico is a very difficult team and it has always been difficult for Argentina," said Protzmann.

"If we don't put our lives into each play, we won't win, especially against Mexico."

Argentina forward Lionel Messi reacts during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group C match against Saudi Arabia at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, north of Doha, on Tuesday. (Photo: AFP)

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