The month of destiny has arrived for Lionel Messi, as the Argentinian superstar looks to complete a resume that would make him the greatest player of all-time with a World Cup triumph.
Plus the Socceroos’ group-mates get underway in a match that will shape their chances of progressing, and Mexico begins its quest to lift a long-running curse.
Follow Matchday 3 from the FIFA World Cup including Argentina v Saudi Arabia (9pm AEDT), Denmark v Tunisia (12am AEDT) and Mexico v Poland (3am AEDT) in our live blog below!
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GUIDE: Everything you need to know about Socceroos’ 2022 World Cup campaign
SCHEDULE: Full World Cup fixture with AEDT times and when the Socceroos play
England’s early World Cup Statement! | 02:06
ARGENTINA v SAUDI ARABIA – Preview (via AFP) and live blog
Argentina superstar Lionel Messi insisted he is determined to make the most of what will likely be his fifth and final chance to win the World Cup.
At 35 years of age, the diminutive magician is close to winding down his remarkable trophy-laden career.
And after playing already in four World Cup tournaments, including suffering the heartache of losing the 2014 final in Brazil to Germany, Messi is adamant that he wants to make the most of what could be his last hurrah on the global stage in Qatar.
“It is probably my last World Cup, my last chance to land this great dream that we all have,” Messi told reporters in Doha.
“I don’t know if this is my happiest moment, but I feel great. I’m older, more mature, I want to make the most of everything, to live it with the maximum intensity and to enjoy every moment that I have.
“Today I’m enjoying everything much more. Before I didn’t think about that. Age makes you see things differently and makes the little details more important: those that before you didn’t give much importance to.”
The seven-time winner of the Ballon d’Or is widely regarded as one of the two greatest players of his generation – if not of all time – alongside Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
But after winning almost everything else in football, Messi is desperate to emulate fellow Argentina icon Diego Maradona, who inspired the South American giants to glory in Mexico 1986.
In recent days, Messi has twice trained apart from the rest of the squad but he moved to dispell any concerns amongst Argentines that he might not be fit for Tuesday’s Group C opener against Saudi Arabia.
“I trained apart because I had a knock, it was precautionary, but nothing unusual,” he said.
Argentina head into the tournament as Copa America holders and unbeaten in 36 matches dating back to 2019.
But coach Lionel Scaloni is wary about too much expectation and being lauded as one of the title favourites.
“The big favourites usually don’t win the World Cup. There are great teams, no less than eight or 10 that can win the World Cup, mostly Europeans.
“It’s true that the South Americans haven’t been able to reach the final recently, apart from Argentina in 2014. It is details that will decide the world champions and they don’t have to be favourites.”
Argentina’s Copa America success last year – defeating Brazil 1-0 at the Selecao’s Maracana fortress – lifted the weight of a painful 28-year barren spell without a major title for the Albiceleste.
Both Scaloni and Messi acknowledged that the victory had freed the team of intense pressure.
“Having won decompresses you a lot, it gives you peace of mind,” said captain Messi.
“This allows the people to be less anxious and fretting over results.”
Scaloni added: “Now the team goes out to play with much more tranquility, the external pressure isn’t there.”
Saudi Arabia’s French coach Herve Renard is looking forward to testing his team against Messi having led Morocco against Portugal and Ronaldo at the last World Cup in Russia.
“It’s an honour to come up against the best players on the planet. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are football legends and thanks to them, football has changed,” said the much-travelled 54-year-old, an Africa Cup of Nations winner with both Zambia and Ivory Coast.
“It’s an honour to be here and an honour to play against them but when you compete you have to put all your energy and motivation into trying to topple the best, that’s what’s beautiful about sport, sometimes you get surprises.”
Argentina XI (4-2-3-1): Emi Martinez, Molina, Cristian Romero, Nicolas Otamendi, Nicolas Tagliafico, Rodrigo De Paul, Leandro Paredes, Papu Gomez, Leo Messi, Lisandro Martinez, Angel Di Maria.
Saudi Arabia XI (4-4-1-1): Mohammed Al-Owais, Saud Abdulhamid, Hassan Al-Tambakti, Ali Al-Bulaihi, Yasser Al-Shahrani, Mohamed Kanno, Abdulellah Al-Malki, Salman Al-Faraj, Firas Al-Buraikan, Saleh Al-Shehri, Salem Al-Dawsari.
Follow Argentina v Saudi Arabia from 9pm AEDT in our live blog!
MATCHDAY 2 WRAP: Bale saves Wales in 64-year return; Poms smack rival for SIX as Dutch win late
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Bale ends 64-year drought for Wales | 00:55
DENMARK v TUNISIA – Preview (via AFP) and live blog
Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand said Monday that his team have come to Qatar to win the World Cup as they prepare for their Group D opener against Tunisia.
The Danes reached the semi-finals of the European Championship last year despite losing their opening game after talisman Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch with a cardiac arrest.
They come into the tournament on the back of a strong qualifying campaign and two Nations League wins over group rivals France.
“Our dream is to win something. So when you go into a tournament this group of players has the quality to win, and I mean to win everything,” said Hjulmand ahead of the clash at Education City Stadium.
The Danes will likely be tussling for first place with world champions France, as the runners-up will almost certainly be playing Argentina in the second round.
And Hjulmand, whose team also face Australia in the group stage, was bullish about his team’s chances with Eriksen firmly back in the fold and in top form.
“Are we favourites? No… but we can beat everyone on the day and we have a very strong self-confidence,” added Hjulmand.
“We have a very good group of players working together and the best way of winning everything is to dream big.”
Denmark predicted XI: Schmeichel – Anderson, Nelsson, Christensen – Wass, Hojbjerg, Delaney, Maehle – Olsen, Eriksen – Dolberg
Tunisia predicted XI: Dahmen – Drager, Bronn, Talbi, Meriah – Chaalali, Skhiri, Laidouni – Slimane, Jaziri, Msakni
Follow Denmark v Tunisia from 12am AEDT in our live blog!
WC CHAOS: FIFA ‘lies’ slammed as journo detained over shirt, fan hats confiscated
ARMBAND SAGA: England boss hits out at shock FIFA ban – fans ‘know what we stand for’
Netherlands save best for last | 00:23
MEXICO v POLAND – Preview (via AFP) and live blog
Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny believes Robert Lewandowski will break his World Cup duck in Qatar as his country aims to reach the knockout phase for the first time since 1986.
Lewandowski is Poland’s record scorer with 76 goals in 134 games but the Barcelona star failed to find the net four years ago in Russia as the Poles exited in the group stage.
The 34-year-old has struck 25 times across the last two World Cup qualifying campaigns but has yet to open his account at the finals.
“I think it’s definitely important for him (to score),” Szczesny told reporters on the eve of Poland’s opening game against Mexico.
“He’s very motivated before the World Cup. No one doubts that Robert is one of the best players in the world right now.”
After eight record-breaking seasons at Bayern Munich, Lewandowski has been just as prolific in his first season with Barcelona – hitting 18 goals in 19 appearances.
“He would definitely like to see his ambitions come true, not only at club level but for his national team. This is a very important tournament.
“I do believe we’ll add Robert Lewandowski to the great names of Polish football with what he does in Qatar.”
Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa is at his fifth World Cup and will be tasked with stopping not only Lewandowski but also Lionel Messi and a fancied Argentina in Group C.
He underlined the importance of a good start for Mexico, who have fallen at the last 16 at the past seven World Cups.
“No opponent will be easy, we’re not thinking about Argentina or Saudi Arabia. We know it’s a short tournament and starting with three points is essential,” said the 37-year-old Ochoa.
“We know what we’re going up against (in Lewandowski). We need to focus on not giving him any chances. He has the ability to turn the game on its head.
“It will be a big challenge to face a player like him. We’ll also make sure they have concerns about our very dangerous players, and I’m sure we’ll hurt them when we attack them.”
Poland have failed to get past the group phase in their past three World Cup appearances, the last of which saw Szczesny punished for a mistake in the first match against Senegal.
The Juventus goalkeeper has suffered a series of mishaps at past major tournaments, including being sent off in the Euro 2012 opener when Poland were co-hosts.
Szczesny played no further part at Euro 2016 after an injury in the first group game. He also conceded an own goal as Poland kicked off their Euro 2020 campaign with a loss to Slovakia.
“I think each tournament has its own history,” said the 32-year-old Szczesny, who confirmed this will be his last World Cup.
“I’m not thinking about tomorrow’s game going back to the previous tournaments. I’m very enthusiastic and looking forward to the first game.”
Mexico predicted XI: Ochoa – Sanchez, Araujo, Montes, Gallardo – Guardado, Alvarez, Gutierrez – Vega, Jiminez, Lozano
Poland predicted XI: Szczesny – Bednarek, Kiwior, Gilik – Zurkowski, Krychowiak, Bielik, Zalewski – Zielinski, Lewandowski, Szymanski
Follow Mexico v Poland from 3am AEDT in our live blog!