FIFA is facing fresh furore over the treatment of head injuries at the World Cup after sickening scenes late in Saudi Arabia's win over Argentina. The Saudis shocked the football world in extraordinary scenes on Tuesday night, beating the powerhouse Argentinians 2-1.
On his fifth quest for the only major trophy to elude him, Lionel Messi scored a 10th minute penalty in a dominant first-half display in which he and Lautaro Martinez also had three goals disallowed for offside. But Saudi Arabia, the second-lowest ranked team in the tournament after Ghana, threw caution to the wind at the start of the second half, charging at Argentina's defence in front of a frenzied 88,012 crowd.
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Saleh Al-Shehri squeezed in a low shot in the 48th minute, before Salem Al-Dawsari curled in a scorching strike from the edge of the penalty area in the 53rd to leave Argentina and Messi looking utterly shell-shocked in the group C opener. Despite plenty of possession after that, Argentina were unable to penetrate Saudi Arabia, who were competing in their sixth World Cup but had never previously won an opening game.
The match finished in distressing scenes when Saudi defender Yasser Al-Shahrani was kneed in the head by goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais and was heavily concussed. Al-Shahrani appeared unconscious as he lay prone on the ground, however the referee failed to call an immediate halt to the game.
Play was allowed to continue for a number of seconds as Saudi Arabia scrambled to clear the ball, before the referee eventually blew the whistle. Players appeared very distressed as Al-Shahrani was given medical attention, before he was taken from the field on a stretcher.
A-Leagues producer Sacha Pisani wrote on Twitter: “So much happening, the referee’s angle and concern for time wasting. But deeply troubling Saudi Arabia’s Al Shahrani was left motionless on the floor after a sickening blow to the head.
“Al Shahrani gave the thumbs up after being stretchered off but another disgraceful example of treatment around head injuries. Thankfully he’s okay. Even if referee was wary of time wasting, as we’ve seen at this tournament, they’ll just add on the time.”
Sports writer Joe Pantorno added: “How that play wasn’t blown dead immediately is befuddling. Yasser Alshahrani was out cold.”
Al-Shahrani reportedly suffered a badly broken jaw in the collision, as well as multiple facial fractures. He was transferred to hospital for surgery.
FIFA has come under fire over their treatment of head injuries during the Cup in Qatar, with Iranian goalkeeper Ali Beiranvand involved in similar scenes on Monday. Beiranvand was initially given the all-clear to continue after suffering a head knock against England, before being forced to come from the field just minutes later.
Luke Griggs, the interim chief executive of brain injury charity 'Headway UK', said that it was “an utter disgrace” to see Beiranvand stay on the pitch.
“It was irrelevant that he came off a minute later, he shouldn’t have stayed on for a second, let alone a minute,” said Griggs. "He was clearly distressed and unfit to continue, this seems to be another case of the decision being made by the player and not medical staff. This was the first test of the FIFA World Cup concussion protocol and it was an abject failure.”
How that play wasn't blown dead immediately is befuddling. Yasser Alshahrani was out cold. #FIFAWorldCup
— Joe Pantorno (@JoePantorno) November 22, 2022
So much happening, the referee’s angle and concern for time wasting.
But deeply troubling Saudi Arabia’s Al Shahrani was left motionless on the floor after a sickening blow to the head.#WorldCup pic.twitter.com/YwJIHhp4wR
— Sacha Pisani (@Sachk0) November 22, 2022
Can't believe how long the ref played on after collision. Was clearly out cold with no help for ages
— Robbie Howell (@mblobby) November 22, 2022
This referee actually saw Al Shahrani get knocked out clean yet he let the play go on waiting to see if Argentina scores from there. And then stops the game when Saudi successfully defends it.
— Rk (@RkFutbol) November 22, 2022
It's unacceptable how the ref didn't stop play after Yasser Al Shahrani got kneed. He should've immediately stopped the play but instead he kept it going. FIFA should take a look into the case.
— 55ainz (@FormulaBayern) November 22, 2022
That looks so horrible. I hope Al-Shahrani is okay. This is sad
— Jorindel (@RINDELJAZZY) November 22, 2022
Saudi Arabia upset leaves football world in shock
Argentina's loss revived old question marks over their defence and broke the team's amazing 36-match undefeated run - one short of the international record of 37 games unbeaten held by Italy. It also marred Messi's achievement of becoming the first Argentinian to score in four World Cups on his 20th appearance in the tournament. Only Maradona has played more games for Argentina at the World Cup, 21 in all.
"This hurts a lot. We were dreaming of starting the World Cup with a win," said Messi's strike partner Martinez. "But it's happened and now we have to train and think forward.
"We lost this game because of our own mistakes, most of all in the second half. There are details that make a difference and we need to correct our mistakes."
Argentina's last defeat was against Brazil in the semi-finals of the Copa America in July 2019. They are ranked third, 48 places above Saudi Arabia, by world football's governing body FIFA.
Their last defeat in their opening match at a World Cup was against Cameroon in 1990. However they went on to reach the final that year.
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