After 5-0 World Cup warm-up victory, Messi, Argentina arrive in Qatartext_fields
Doha: Following a 5-0 warm-up victory, Argentina and superstar Lionel Messi arrived in Qatar early on Thursday for the World Cup. The defending champions France have also arrived in Doha.
Even though Messi, 35, has won a tonne of awards, the competition in Qatar is probably his last opportunity to match the feat of fellow Argentine great Diego Maradona, who led his nation to World Cup victory.
At 2:30 am (2330 GMT), Wednesday, he and the Argentina team flew from Abu Dhabi, where they had defeated the UAE 5-0 in a friendly, with Messi scoring.
The South Americans, who were among the favourites entering this year's World Cup, will kick off their campaign against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday in Group C, which also includes Mexico and Poland.
Messi's 91st goal for his country helped the 1978 and 1986 World Cup champions extend their unbeaten streak to 36 games.
Even though the club is one of the favourites, Messi remained cautious about their chances in Qatar, AFP reported.
"We have a very nice group that is very eager, but we think about going little by little. We know that World Cup groups are not easy," the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner said in an interview with CONMEBOL, the South American football federation.
In an effort to become the first team to successfully defend the World Cup since Brazil in 1962, France arrived in Doha on Wednesday.
Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, and captain Hugo Lloris are among the ten members of the squad who won the 2018 championship.
But the first-choice midfield duo of Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante are absent for the defending champions, who are paired with Australia, Denmark, and Tunisia.
Karim Benzema, the 2014 winner of the Ballon d'Or, will play in his first World Cup match since 2014 after missing several Real Madrid games this season due to injuries.
Christian Pulisic believes this World Cup is an opportunity to improve perceptions of American soccer abroad as the US returns to the top table of football after an eight-year absence.
"That's what we're here to do," Pulisic told AFP. "Maybe it hasn't been the top sport or whatever back in the States.
"But we want to change the way that the world sees American soccer. That's one of our goals."
Concerns about Qatar's treatment of women, the LGBTQ community, and migrant labour have dominated the lead-up to the tournament there.
Some nations have refused to change their attention from other issues to football, despite FIFA's pleas.
As Gareth Southgate's side arrived at their World Cup camp on Tuesday, Indian fans of England outnumbered English supporters by a ratio of over ten to one.
The supporters claimed that claims they were "fake fans" in the British and French media infuriated them.
Sajidh, 29, stated that claims that Indian football supporters in Qatar had been bribed to wear World Cup-related jerseys had left them "outraged."
"It is purely fake news and I would like to say loud and clear that none of us have been paid in any way," added Sajidh, who gave only one name.
"We are diehard England fans."
On Wednesday, the World Cup's organisers offered their opinion, stating that fans from all over the world had influenced the mood in the area.
"Numerous journalists and commentators on social media have questioned whether these are 'real' fans," they said in a statement.
"We thoroughly reject these assertions, which are both disappointing and unsurprising.