If this World Cup had a face, it could be Lionel Messi’s. The mercurial Argentine has been the match’s most respected advertising asset. He’s the frontman for Fifa’s “Soccer Unites the World” marketing campaign, and has a number of endorsements in Qatar. As one of many superstars enjoying at Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain, that’s hardly a shock.
Together with Cristiano Ronaldo (and to some extent Luka Modrić and Karim Benzema), Messi has additionally helped weave probably the most compelling storyline forward of this World Cup. The GOAT period is drawing to an in depth. At 35, that is prone to be his last probability at lifting soccer’s final prize. Many followers have come right here simply to bear witness to Messi’s final hurrah.
So the humiliation of his Argentina workforce — second favourites to win the World Cup forward of kick-off — by the hands of a low-ranked Saudi Arabia is a blow to the mythmaking of Qatar 2022.
However there’s a flip facet. After days of tales about unfinished lodging, alcohol bans and “unauthorised” rainbows, the soccer has delivered one thing the organisers have been hoping for: a serious speaking level.
And, for Messi, there’s a curious subplot. Earlier this 12 months he signed as much as promote tourism in Saudi Arabia. That might doubtlessly put him ready the place he’s backing a Saudi bid to host the World Cup in 2030, a contest that’s prone to pit the Gulf kingdom in opposition to his native Argentina.
Wednesday’s one to look at: Belgium’s golden technology tries once more
Belgium have lengthy been the hipsters’ favourites at worldwide tournaments. For years the workforce has been stacked with top-class expertise, from Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku in assault, to Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld on the again.
However maybe their most necessary participant is goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. The Actual Madrid stopper was lately named the world’s greatest keeper, having been instrumental in his workforce’s profitable Champions League marketing campaign final season.
In Qatar, Belgium will want him to be on prime kind. The much-vaunted “Golden Technology” is getting into its twilight years. This can be its final probability to show the hipsters proper.
Learn Simon Kuper’s full profile of Thibault Courtois right here.
Wednesday’s fixture record:
Morocco vs Croatia, 10am UK time/1pm Doha time
Germany vs Japan, 1pm UK time/4pm Doha time
Costa Rica vs Spain, 4pm UK time/7pm Doha time
Belgium vs Canada, 7pm UK time/10pm Doha time
Tuesday’s spotlight: A lift for Saudi Arabia’s soccer ambitions
As surprised Argentina followers left the stadium after their shock 2-1 loss, Saudi followers had been busy sharing movies of celebrations again dwelling on their telephones. So momentous was the end result that the Saudi king instantly declared Wednesday a nationwide vacation.
In Riyadh, Saudis celebrated, some driving round with passengers leaning out of home windows and flying their inexperienced nationwide flags. Social media customers shared scenes of celebration in Egypt and Gaza.
Saudi Arabia’s ambitions in sport are enormous and rising. The nation’s sovereign wealth fund acquired a majority stake in Premier League membership Newcastle United a 12 months in the past, and have — backed by a whole lot of thousands and thousands of kilos in oil cash — made the Magpies real contenders for Champions League qualification this season.
The Saudis have additionally dedicated a minimum of $2bn to construct a rival circuit, LIV Golf, to the PGA Tour. You possibly can watch our video explainer of the Saudi hostile takeover of golf right here, a part of our Scoreboard video collection.
A Saudi bid to host the 2030 World Cup is within the works, maybe in partnership with Greece and Egypt. Tuesday’s win could also be only one match, however it would solely serve to bolster Saudi curiosity on the earth’s hottest sport.
Argentina 1 Saudi Arabia 2
Denmark 0 Tunisia 0
Mexico 0 Poland 0
France 4 Australia 1
Cristiano Ronaldo has left Manchester United, along with his contract terminated by mutual settlement and with instant impact. The transfer comes days after an explosive TV interview with Piers Morgan. The Portuguese star is because of make his first World Cup look on Thursday in opposition to Ghana.
German retailer Rewe stated on Tuesday that it was cancelling its sponsorship take care of the German soccer federation after the workforce bowed to threats from Fifa and avoided carrying pro-inclusion armbands as deliberate.