This is the first of four games today
Denmark vs Tunisia, Mexico vs Poland and France vs Australia to follow. Make sure you get your diary sorted by consulting our full fixture schedule here.
ITV with a piece on sportswashing
Roy Keane has had his say: “The World Cup shouldn’t be here. It shouldn’t be here. The corruption of the initial bid with Fifa, they way they treat migrant workers and gay people. We all love football but we can’t ignore human rights. It shouldn’t be here.”
Graeme Souness is more equivocal, he says the Saudi ownership should be “nowhere near Newcastle” but says we do not live in a perfect world and that money from Gulf states has “infiltrated” every level of society. He says activists will not let these issues drop long after the tournament has finished. He finishes by saying “the British have not been perfect in many parts of the world, including in Roy’s country.”
Thom Gibbs’ kit rankings
Argentina’s blue and white stripes are one of those most recognisable jerseys at any World Cup, a true classic you do not mess around with. Where does this year’s strip rank in Thom’s exhaustive kit rankings? Find out here.
Argentina’s two idols
Some argue Messi could surpass Diego Maradona as history’s greatest player should he deliver Argentina a World Cup of his own. This is his last chance.
The big difference between 2022 and 1986 of course, is that Messi is on the wrong side of his peak years whereas Maradona was in his prime and shaped the entire tournament. For all Messi’s abundant gifts, I’m not sure Argentina can rely on him to be a driving force in the same way. It needs to be a collective effort.
Argentina’s team analysed
They typically set up with a 4-3-3 and it looks like more of the same for Scaloni. Otamendi is preferred to Lisandro Martinez at the centre-half, which might surprise some Premier League fans, but national teams have their own hierarchies.
Argentina will be without Giovani Lo Celso for this tournament through injury, with Alejandro Gomez starting in midfield ahead of Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister.
The front three of Messi, Martinez and Di Maria picks itself.
The two teams
Argentina: Emeliano Martinez, Nahuel Molina, Cristian Romero, Nicolas Otamendi, Nicolas Tagliafico, Alejandro Gomez, Rodrigo De Paul, Leandro Paredes, Lionel Messi (c), Lautaro Martinez, Angel Di Maria
Saudi Arabia: Mohamed Al-Owais, Ali Al-Bulaihi, Yasser Al-Shahrani, Mohamed Kanno, Saud Abdulhamid, Abdulelah Al-Malki, Saleh Al-Shehri, Hassan Al-Tambakti, Salman Al-Faraj (c), Salem Al-Dawsari, Firas Al-Buraikan.
Predict the score
Argentina have not been crowned world champions since 1986, but expectations are sky high for Qatar after winning the Copa America last year. Lionel Scaloni’s team are 36 games unbeaten and after a relatively indifferent campaign last season, Lionel Messi has been in magical form for PSG.
At previous tournaments, Argentina have struggled to balance their team around Messi, with star poachers such as Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain perhaps not his ideal foil. In Lautaro Martinez, they possess a selfless forward who will do Messi’s running and also the ever dependable Angel di Maria supplying the bullets. Messi was pictured in training with what appeared a swollen ankle but was later revealed to be protective strapping.
Argentina kick off against Saudi Arabia, surely one of the weakest teams in the competition. With Mexico and Poland making up the group, Scaloni’s team will be heavy favourites to reach the knockouts stages as group winners. Saudi Arabia have only made it out of the group once in five appearances at the World Cup, but did win a game in Russia against Egypt. Since 2002, Saudi Arabia have been beaten 8-0 by Germany, 4-0 by Ukraine and 5-0 by Russia at World Cups so they will fear another beating.
Defender Cristian Romero and forwards Nicolas Gonzalez, Alejandro Gomez and Paulo Dybala were left out for Argentina’s last warm-up match in Abu Dhabi, a 5-0 thrashing of UAE, with all four recovering after feeling “some discomfort” according to Scaloni. Argentina will hope Romero can recover because centre-back is a potential weak spot, although Nicolas Otamendi is still going strong at international level. Should Argentina win their group, the odds would suggest a meeting with Denmark in the next round unless the Danes spring a surprise and beat France to top spot in their group.
Full team news on the way shortly.