I do six minutes of cover before ITV started talking about England.
Argentina (4-3-3): Martinez; Molina, Romero, Otamendi, Tagliafico; DePaul, Paredes, Gomez; Messi, Martinez, Di Maria. Subtitles: Armani, Rulli, Foyth, Montiel, Pezzella, Acuna, Palacios, Rodriguez, MacAllister, Fernandez, Alvarez, Correa, Almada, Dybala.
Saudi Arabia (4-3-3): Alowais; Abdulhamid, Altambakti, Albulaihi, Alshahrani; Kanno, Almalki, Alfaraj, Albrikan, Alshehri, Aldawsari. Subtitles: Alyami, Alaqidi, Madu, Alamri, Alburayk, Alghannam, Aldawsari, Alnajei, Alhassan, Otayf, Alabed, Alobud Bahbri, Asiri.
Arbitrator: Slavko Vincic (Slovenia)
Good news for all preamble writers: Lionel Messi starts for Argentina.
Juca Kfouri, the Brazilian football writer, was once told that Zico never won the World Cup. “Well, he replies, it’s the bad luck of the World Cup”.
And in a way, Brazil’s failure to lift the trophy in 1982 – and 1986 – actually elevates their position, cementing them in our hearts because it’s easier to identify with tragic heroes than with heroic heroes. Or, in other words, because – as we always are when we think we’re thinking of someone or something else – we’re really thinking of ourselves. But it is also easier to identify with them because they represented something important: “Beauty comes first, victory is secondary – what counts is joy”, said Socrates.
Which brings us to Lionel Messi. Our relationship with him is different partly because Argentine football culture is different from Brazilian football culture, which focuses on winning by any means necessary. But it’s also a personal thing – although Messi may be the greatest player to ever exist, he was so adept at concealing his essence that all we know of him is the genius we let’s see on the ground, which means there is no personal connection. So from our point of view – we’re still there, punkt in the center of things – he would need to inspire a famous win here, so people he doesn’t know and don’t care about don’t think least to a dude who has 487 goals in 559 club matches and 91 in 165 at international level; received seven Ballon d’Ors; and won 10 La Liga titles, plus four Champions Leagues.
In reality, it has nothing to do with us: Messi has to win this for himself, so he ends his career with no regrets. And the good news for him is that he has a decent chance: Argentina have solid defence, toughness and creativity in midfield, and serious firepower up front. The bad news for him is that he may be dealing a blow, but reports suggest he will be fine.
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, were good in qualifying but have been less so since. They are, albeit solid at the back: in 12 games this calendar year they have conceded just six goals, keeping clean sheets against Australia, USA and Ecuador, limiting Colombia and Croatia only one goal, and only that left. once. Here we are!
Kick-off: 1:00 p.m. local time, 10:00 a.m. GMT