87 min Di Maria again goes down the right, picks out Lautaro, and again, Altambakti, my man of the match, makes a fine challenge.
87 min Er, there’s another game kicking off in 70 minutes’ time.
86 min I can’t help but think the removal of Paredes harmed Argentina. He was helping them set their tempo, and the game’s got a bit messier since he departed; weight of numbers should override structure only at the very end.
84 min Argentina haven’t lost a World cup game in which they’ve scored first since West Germany beat them 3-1 in 1958, but excuse me while I interrupt myself! Di Maria picks out Big Leo Messi at the back stick, he’s up early … too early, I think, and can’t impart any power on his header aimed for the far corner, so again, Alowais collects. Since going behind, Argentina have created almost nothing.
83 min Acuna bursts down the left and crosses, but no one hits the near post so Alowais collects under nae pressure.
82 min Argentina are being Argentinad now, Abdulhamid clattering someone – Fernandez I think – and taking a card while stopping momentum.
81 min And Messi lofts high over the bar!
80 min The Saudi wall isn’t keen to retreat, the tension ratcheting up a few more levels above stratospheric.
79 min Argentina win a free-kick in Messi Territory after a foul on De Paul and Aldawsari is booked for appealing it’s award. Here he comes, 25 yards out, just left of centre…
78 min Change for Saudi, Alghannam for Alshehri, scorer of their first goal.
77 min The ground is bouncing, jumping, and every other cliche we use to describe the greatest communal experience that exists in the world. Argentina have roughly 20minutes to save themselves – though in a sense, this result would be as bad for Poland and Mexico, both of whom will fancy making the knockouts.
75 min Albulaihi is booked for timewasting. I daresay his won’t be the last, and it’s interesting that this is a risk he was prepared to take, England, Wales and the rest.
74 min Tremendous keeping from Alowais, who’s been great so far. A ball in behind and for a second it looks like Lautaro is in, but the keeper slides out and makes a brilliant, goal-saving challenge. I’ve smoke coming off my fingers, this is wondrous, wonderful stuff.
74 min “Not just third-choice keeper,” says Jerry Spring. “How about from the kick-off the captain wear the armband, gets booked, passes to another player, gets booked, passes on…back to the captain, gets second yellow and off, onto the next player, etc. No players left on the pitch and it hasn’t even kicked off … and if all the main teams do that in consecutive games then Fifa won’t have a competition to sell … let’s see who backs down first.”
73 min Fernandez slams a low cross that Alvarez might’ve got had he not been on his heels, then Messi used the outside of his left boot to curve a ball into Di Maria, down the right of the box, but a poor low shot was easily gobbled by Alowais.
72 min I wonder, by he way, if Scaloni will get grief for picking Romero, who’d not played for a bit, when he had Lisandro, in great form. He likes the former and with good reason, but he had an alernative.
71 min Another change for Argentina, Tagliafico departing and Acuna arriving.
70 min “How about a second penalty spot on the 18-yard line for fouls in the box not deemed a goal scoring opportunity?” asks Charles Howgego.
I’d be fine with that; I’m sure there are a few solutions that are better than the status qo.
69 min Saudi are sitting deeper now, Messi sliding a ball inside Albrikan for Fernandez … and the defender does really well to get it behind.
67 min Almaki slides into a fifty-fifty with Otamendi, there’s a mincing of limbs, and the Saudi man is booked.
66 min Argentina have played much better today than they did in losing their first game of Italia 90 to Cameroon. But they’re paying the price for eagerness – on reflection, those times they were caught offside in the first half, they had no business being caught offside because the passes were good and there was so much space into which they could run.
65 min Another ball over the top finds Messi, but Altambakti does really well to intercede – again – as he looks for Lautaro.
64 min Argentina win a corner, someone – I’m not certain who – swipes it across the face, and Lisandro knees goalwards form a few yards … but Alowais does brilliantly to scramble across his line and shovel around the post for a further corner that comes to nowt.
62 min Herve Renard is living this match now, right up on the touchline. I wonder, though, about Scaloni’s changes – I’m not yet sure on Argentina’s shape, but generally I’d say it’s too early to sacrifice that for eight of attacking numbers. Anyhow, Di Maria swerves over a fine cross that Lautaro is slightly longer spikes away from glancing home.
61 min Saudi are still persevering with that high line and amazingly, in co-comms, Lee Dixon is dubious rather than envious. “Lino!”
61 min Back to the armband thing for a second, a bit of creativity and the problem is easily solved. Bring on your third keeper at the end, make him captain, he gets booked, whatevz.
60 min It’s a long time since I’ve experienced as wild a 10 minutes as that. Football!
59 min Ch ch ch changes, Lisandro Martinez, Alvarez and Fernandez replacing Romero, Gomez and Paredes. Argentina are going for it.
56 min Immediately, Messi skates forward, but have a look! Altambakti slides in and executes a sensational sliding challenge inside the box, celebrating like he’s just scored. We could be witnessing something historic here – dig in mates, this is real, the intensity and extremes that real life can’t give us right here in our faces.
54 min Phew! This is why the worst people around want a piece of football. There is nothing, nothing like it.
GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL! Aldawsari pinches a yard, dipping infield off the left, and unfurls a gloooooorious curler that Martinez can only palm into the top corner. THAT IS ONE OF THE GREAT WOLRD CUP MOMENTS! THE GROUND IS IN DISBELIEF, A NATION GOES WILD! CAN SAUDI HANG ON?
53 min Saudi are on it! Abdulhamid finds Alabid down the right, who tries a curler from the right – it looks goalbound but it’s heading clear. Saudi, though, maintain the pressure….
51 min This is now also a good test for Argentina, who have to regain composure and try and prise apart a well-drilled side on a buzz.
49 min There is a row in the ground! These next 41+543 minutes are going to be intense!
GOODNESS ME! Saudi win it in midfield, a long ball sends Alshehri in, his first touch is excellent and he’s got the legs to escape Romero, who’s not played in a minute. At speed, he deftly guides a finish into the ground, through the defender’s legs, and past Martinez right into the corner, racing over to the Saudi fans and getting to his knees in prayer! What a moment!
46 min “I think this short video of Nicky Bandini commenting on how the teams who were going to wear One Love armbands backed down is worth putting on the liveblog,” returns Kári Tulinius. “I honestly thought that I had become too jaded to be surprised by the cravenness of footballers and football authorities towards authoritarians, but even I’ve been shocked how little it took, a yellow card.”
Yes, I agree.
“It’s important to stand up for injustice.”
“A bit less important than getting a yellow card.”
46 min We go again.
Bubbling testosterone in the studio: Roy Keane doesn’t think it was penalty and Graeme Souness thinks it doesn’t matter what Roy Keane thinks because the refs have been told to give them for those kinds of things. “I’m here to give my opinion,” says Roy, many times; “Give someone else a chance to speak, you might learn something,” says Graeme; “Snigger,”says Joe Cole.
DO IT, DO IT, DO IT!
Half-time emails: “The first thought when a corner is given is now ‘ooh, might get a cheap penalty here’ rather than ‘might score an actual goal here’,” says Tom Hopkins. “I’m not sure how to change that without putting the VAR genie back in its box, but it doesn’t seem like an ideal state of affairs?”
On the other hand, David Sweet disagrees with me saying “I think I preferred it when refs could turn a blind eye because I don’t think that kind of thing should result in an almost definite goal,” replaying as follows: “But a foul is a foul and I think 99 fans out of 100 would prefer that ‘tussles’ did not happen – NO use of hands/arms on an opponent: ever. That would be in the spirit and laws of the game from the start.”
I’m not sure. David, I like the physical aspect of the game, so would always err on the side of preservation; Tom, I’d have binned VAR before it came in because of how it compromises goal celebrations, the greatest feeling known to mankind, but I’d always thought that penalties are too harsh a punishment for many of the offences for which they’re given and this has intensified that.
That was a pretty enjoyable half of football, and not just because it’s 10.52am UK time nor because we’re all hopeless marks totally narcotised by the majesty of football. Argentina played some nice stuff, Saudi were enterprising too, and we’ve still got 315 minutes, (plus 692 of added time) awaiting us today.
45+3 min Ach, I was wrong about Alfaraj. The Saudi captain departs grimacing and on the verge of tears, poor bloke – he must be hurt if he can’t last until the break – and Alabid replaces him.