The Albiceleste are expected to eliminate the Green Falcons in the opening match of Group C at Lusail Stadium.
Who: Argentina vs Saudi Arabia, Group C
Where: Lusail Stadium
When: Tuesday, November 22 at 22:00 (19:00 GMT)
Classification: Argentina (3), Saudi Arabia (51)
The opening match of Group C of the World Cup will see Argentina take on Saudi Arabia on Tuesday at the 80,000 capacity Lusail Stadium.
Led by superstar Lionel Messi, the Argentinians have been widely tipped to challenge heavily for a third World Cup win. Coach Lionel Scaloni’s pupils know that his legions of fans expect, even demand, a convincing victory against the Gulf team.
His hopes of glory were forged during an incredible 36-game unbeaten run dating back to 2019 and have been made all the more poignant by Messi’s recent indications that this will be his last World Cup.
The diminutive 35-year-old has been in brilliant form for club and country over the past year, lighting up his second season at Paris Saint-Germain with 12 goals and 14 assists in 19 games to date.
Considered by many to be the greatest footballer of his generation, he will be assisted in Qatar by a number of secondary talents, including attackers Ángel Di María and Lautaro Martínez, and midfielders Rodrigo De Paul and Leandro Paredes.
Argentina also possesses a mean defence, clouding prospects of the Green Hawks pulling off an upset and adding to predictions by some that the South American side could be back at the Lusail Stadium for the World Cup final on December 18 th.
But Saudi Arabia will be determined to try to thwart La Albiceleste, who were last crowned world champions in 1986.
If they are to enjoy any success, the Saudis will need to be impeccably organized in their own half and ready to pummel the Argentinians at half-time when opportunities to counter-attack present themselves.
Manager Herve Renard will be fully aware of the scale of the challenge ahead, as tough games lie ahead against fellow Group C players Poland and Mexico. However, he and his players will be buoyed by an excellent qualifying campaign that saw them book a place in this year’s tournament with two games in hand, securing a sixth World Cup appearance since their maiden performance in the edition of 1994.
Talisman Salem Al-Dawsari will offer Saudi Arabia’s biggest threat with his creative wing play and comes into the competition after the most prolific season of his career to date, having scored heavily for the club’s Al-Hilal based in Riyadh.
The 31-year-old is unlikely to lack support from the stands as tens of thousands of Saudi Arabian fans are expected to attend the first World Cup in the Middle East. Among them will be Abdullah Alsulmi, who has walked more than 1,500 km (930 miles) from the Red Sea port city of Jeddah to Qatar to cheer on his team.
But regardless of the results, the team’s mere appearance in the tournament marks something of a victory for their supporters. For more than three years, Riyadh had led a regional economic blockade of Qatar that threatened to undermine Saudi Arabia’s participation in the competition, and some feared, the tournament itself.
Now that’s history: the lockdown was finally lifted in early 2021. Saudi Arabia and Argentina will focus on the next month, starting Tuesday.