After Saudi Arabia’s seismic upset over Argentina and Tunisia’s hard-won draw against Denmark, Arab fans say the sky is the limit.
It has been a jubilant day for Arab teams playing in the World Cup, the first edition ever to be held in the Middle East.
Early on Tuesday, Saudi Arabia shocked the world with its 2-1 victory over the Lionel Messi-led Argentinian national team in Lusail Stadium.
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Before the historic upset, the Saudis had previously only ever won three World Cup matches.
The atmosphere inside the stadium – where it was almost impossible to see a Danish fan amidst the sea of red-and-white-clad Tunisians – was electric.
Throughout the match, Tunisians sang, danced and screamed at the Mexican referee Cesar Arturo Ramos, railing against marginal decisions that went against their team. They cheered and clapped relentlessly every time a Tunisian player touched the ball.
For supporters of Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, watching their teams’ inspired performances on Arab soil was an exhilarating experience.
“Unbelievable day. All Arabs are happy. Proud day to be Arab. First Saudi Arabia showed the world we can play against the best and win. And now us [Tunisia], we showed, we can play one of the best teams in the world and not lose or be scared,” Zohra Dachraoui, a Tunisian supporter, told Al Jazeera soon after watching the match.
Earlier, Lionel Messi – a seven-time Ballon d’Or winner – couldn’t help Argentina as inspired Saudi players snapped at his heels throughout the game.
A visibly disappointed Messi walked around the pitch after the final whistle as the Saudi Arabia bench ran to the field to celebrate the historic win.
Messi, the Argentinian team’s captain and talisman, had opened the scoring from the penalty spot early in the first half. From there, many would have expected Argentina to stroll to victory.
But the early setback inspired a roaring comeback from Saudi Arabia, who scored two quick goals in the second half and held firm against some late Argentinian pressure.
“Football is a very beautiful game full of surprises. We, the Arabs, were expected to lose both matches. No one believed we could get these results. But look, who is celebrating? The Arabs,” Ayoub Gherbi, an Algerian who came to Education City Stadium to support Tunisia, told Al Jazeera.
“Tunisia were the better team against a team everyone in the world says are one of the favourites. They played really well and God willing will continue to bring more joy to Arabs everywhere,” said Gherbi as he joined a group of Tunisian supporters chanting in the stands long after the final whistle had blown.
After today’s inspiring performances, some Arab fans are optimistic about their teams’ chances of progressing in the 32-team football showpiece.
“We can go far. How far? I say the sky is the limit. We [Arabs] are playing at home. Every Arab team will have a strong support. This will give every Arab team a huge boost,” Moez Babboucha, a Tunisian, said.