The lunch kick-off in Qatar is the start of Lionel Messi’s fifth World Cup. Fittingly, the chase for gold starts in the final arena – and it is only in the stands that Saudi Arabia can challenge.
At 12.00: Argentina-Saudi Arabia
Lusail Stadium, Lusail
Commentator: Mats Ahlnäs
Argentina’s situation: Total harmony
Has the Argentina national team fared better in the last three decades?
First title in 28 years secured last year in Copa América
The team went undefeated through the WC qualifiers
Today, Argentina can touch Italy’s record of 37 consecutive international matches without a loss
And everything points to that being the case. Argentina are massive advance favorites against one of the tournament’s weakest opponents.
After the World Cup failure in 2018, Lionel Scaloni has taken over as the national team captain and got the shape of Argentina. The team is balanced, versatile, filled with world class and in complete harmony.
Joaquin Correa (Inter) and Nico Gonzalez (Fiorentina) threw in the towel late on, but those interruptions do not reduce Argentina’s striking power significantly.
Saudi Arabia Location: Toothless
0–1, 0–1, 0–0, 0–0, 1–0, 1–1, 0–0, 1–0, 1–1, 0–1.
No in-depth analysis of the last ten results is needed to ring in Saudi Arabia’s major problems. And if you are to be realistic, the offensive numbers will not be polished today.
In advance, Argentina against Saudi Arabia is one of the most uneven match pairs in the entire World Cup group stage.
Saudi Arabia is a blank slate for the vast majority: the players stay in the domestic league. The Frenchman Hervé Renard came in as national team captain just in time for the start of the World Cup qualifiers and there they impressed in a group with Japan and Australia – but there were only twelve goals in ten games.
Now you have to play against the upper hand, but you know you have the support behind you. The expectation is that the Saudis will at least start the fight in the stands with an advantage as the WC is held in the neighboring country of Qatar.
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Fittingly, it starts at the finals arena in Lusail – and the fact is that Argentina will play five out of seven World Cup matches in this giant stadium if they win the group and reach the final.
It’s a long way to go – and a small question mark before Argentina’s World Cup start is actually Messi’s participation and how long he plays against the Saudis. The PSG star did not train with the rest of the team on Friday and Saturday ahead of the start of his fifth World Cup.
– I have absolutely no problems and am in good shape physically. I heard rumors that I have gone on something, but it is nothing to think about, says Messi.
Messi is playing in his fifth World Cup, he has played in one final (2014) and needs a gold to reduce the arguments against him in the debate about who is the best ever.
It’s not a question of who wins, rather by how much. Argentina practice shooting and open the World Cup with a clear 4-0 victory.
At 15.00: Denmark-Tunisia, MTV3
At 18.00: Mexico-Poland, MTV3
At 21.00: France-Australia
Al-Janoub Stadium, Al-Wakrah
Commentator: Christopher Herberts
France’s position: Wing clipped world champion
“Les Bleus” are defending the WC title after the gold in Moscow 2018, but before the tournament everything is about the injury situation in the squad.
No team has been hit as hard as France on that front. Half the starting eleven is missing.
Midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté have often laid the foundation for French success, but they are not included this time. In the back line, there is no Presnel Kimpembe in the WC, while Raphael Varane is not healthy enough to start in the premiere.
This weekend also saw the biggest killing blow. Reigning Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema misses the entire tournament, and France will be both a little thinner and a little duller without “Benz”. Real Madrid’s star striker is replaced by experienced Olivier Giroud, but otherwise the break makes France a significantly younger team.
Benzema’s club mate Aurélien Tchouameni is in a key role in defensive midfield, while the centre-backs against Australia will be Liverpool’s Ibrahima Konaté (2 caps) and Bayern’s Dayot Upamecano (7 caps).
Routine and experience would be France’s trump card in the World Cup. Now the team in key positions is instead young and untested. So it can go.
Australia’s situation: Worst in the whole World Cup?
The teams from the Asian Football Confederation have not graced the market so far in the World Cup, to put it mildly. Australia is also playing its qualifier in Asia, where it was worse than both Iran and Saudi Arabia.
That Australia made it to Qatar at all was also regarded domestically as a travesty, there are simply no Tim Cahillars, Harry Kewells or Mark Vidukors in Australian football right now.
Before the premiere, a couple of the players who come closest to star status have also disappeared with injuries, two important cogs in the offensive. Martin Boyle (Hibernian) misses the entire WC while Ajdin Hrustic (Verona) is not fit for a starting place.
That questioned coach Graham Arnold likes to talk about “Aussie DNA” and “fighting spirit” as the team’s main weapons says most about what we can expect. A low-lying team that fights for every ball and tries to keep the numbers down.
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The potential is certainly there. Last season he accounted for an incredible 39 goals and 26 assists for PSG, and in the last ten internationals his balance is 11+5.
The fact that Benzema is missing does not have to be a bad thing for Mbappé personally. Now he gets to shine on his own, and French rumors have long said he prefers to play with Giroud.
Extra motivated after a lackluster performance in the European Championship last year and an autumn full of bad guys in the club team PSG, this could be Mbappé’s month.
The level difference between the teams is total, this can only end one way.
But France have made a habit of starting weak in major tournaments. Since 2000, in the last 11 finals, the country has averaged just 1.2 goals in its group stage matches. So any goal fireworks are hardly to be expected.
We say 2-0 to France after a routine effort. That is, exactly as in the two matches between France and Finland in the qualifiers for the Qatar World Cup.