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Argentina loses to Saudi Arabia in the World Cup

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The World Cup started this week in Qatar, and it has already delivered a historic upset in the form of Argentina losing 2-1 early this morning to Saudi Arabia. Argentina has been considered a strong contender in the tournament. After all, their captain, Lionel Messi, is one of the best players in the world. Joining us now is NPR's Jasmine Garsd. She is host of The Last Cup, NPR's podcast about Messi. Hey there, Jasmine.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Hi.

KELLY: I want to start with him, the player at the center of this. What does this loss mean for Messi?

GARSD: A lot. I mean, Messi is one of the best players in soccer history. He's broken all kinds of records with Barca. That's his former team in Spain. But, you know, for most of his career, when he plays with Argentina, it does not go well. And this is, like, the bane of his existence not being able to win a World Cup for Argentina. Now, at age 35, he's announced that this is his last World Cup. This is really his last chance.

KELLY: So did Argentina fall apart today, or did Saudi Arabia have, like, their greatest day ever? What happened out there?

GARSD: Look. I saw an impressive performance by Saudi Arabia. They were organized. Their defense pushed hard. I also saw Argentina fall into some old bad habits, like being overly reliant on Lio Messi. Like, you know, you're the best. Go fix this. But that is not what makes a strong team. I should also mention that, so far, one of the stars of this tournament is the VAR, the video assisted referee. Just one week in, there has been so much controversy over it, with several goals already been annulled. This is what happened to Argentina several times today.

KELLY: Not to rub it in, but you're from Argentina. What has been the reaction from fans there, from your house today?

GARSD: (Sighing).

KELLY: (Laughter) That was a long sigh.

GARSD: Look. If you had walked by my house at dawn today, you would have heard me screaming at the television. We take soccer really seriously. And today was a huge blow. The head coach and players have said now is the time for unity and to play even harder. But this was tough.

KELLY: Yeah. Well, cheer. We can't count Argentina out yet. What is next for Messi and his team?

GARSD: Argentina is facing Mexico on Saturday. These are two historic rivals. It's bound to be a heated game - and then playing Poland later next week. So it is hardly over for Argentina. But I'll admit this is not a good start.

KELLY: Not a good start. And, of course, for Saudi Arabia, the victor today, they, of course, are still trying to make it out of their round as well.

GARSD: Yeah. I mean, it's a great start for Saudi Arabia. I don't think anyone saw this coming. It was a real - I would say it's, like, the first big surprise of the World Cup or one of the big surprises.

KELLY: Yeah. I mean, and last thing before I let you go, I called it a historic upset when I introduced you. Do you think that is, in fact, true? Does it rank up there?

GARSD: I mean, I think that, you know, Saudi Arabia, again, like, no one saw this coming. Argentina was considered and many still consider it a very, very strong contender. Yeah, I think this is really, like - this is important. This is a historic upset. You're right.

KELLY: That is NPR's Jasmine Garsd, host of The Last Cup. That is our podcast about Lionel Messi and his bid to win a World Cup. Jasmine, thank you.

GARSD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.