Today at the World Cup: Argentina and France prepare for openers

Lionel Messi’s Argentina and defending champions France are among the teams getting their campaigns under way as the opening round of World Cup group matches continues on Tuesday.

On Monday, England made an impressive start by thrashing Iran 6-2, Gareth Bale’s late penalty secured Wales a 1-1 draw with the United States in the other Group B game, and there was also victory for the Netherlands over Senegal.

Here, the PA news agency rounds up events in Qatar.

Messi on his fitness

Messi (left) in training ahead of Argentina's World Cup opener (Jorge Saenz/AP).
Messi (left) in training ahead of Argentina’s World Cup opener (Jorge Saenz/AP).

Lionel Messi has declared his readiness as he spoke about his physical condition ahead of Argentina’s Group C opener against Saudi Arabia.

The 35-year-old captain told a press conference: “I’m very well physically, good condition. I have no issues whatsoever.

“I heard there were rumours about having to miss part of the training, or training apart from the team because of a blow – it was just precautions, nothing strange or out of the ordinary.”

Messi – at his fifth World Cup, having come closest to claiming the trophy when Argentina finished as runners-up in 2014 – also said he was “aware that this is a very special moment – it is most likely my last World Cup, the last opportunity to make my dream, our dream, a reality.”

France staying calm after Benzema withdrawal

Tuesday’s games also include world champions France, whose list of players out injured has been added to by Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema’s withdrawal from the squad, taking on Australia in Group D.

Boss Didier Deschamps admits Les Bleus are without some of their bigger characters but believes those who remain have not been too badly affected, saying: “We have enough players who are able to stimulate, get others going, talk in the dressing rooms, on the pitch, on the sidelines.

“There’s no apprehension. We have done everything possible. There’s no anxiety, everyone is calm and there are cool heads.”

Also in action on Tuesday are Denmark and Tunisia in this group, and Mexico and Poland in Group C.

Saka shines for emphatic England

Bukayo Saka puts England 2-0 up (Adam Davy/PA).
Bukayo Saka puts England 2-0 up (Adam Davy/PA)

England’s rout of Iran at Khalifa International Stadium saw Gareth Southgate’s men register three times in each half, with Bukayo Saka notching a fine brace. Teenager Jude Bellingham opened the scoring, and Raheem Sterling and substitutes Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish also netted.

Mehdi Taremi scored twice, firstly to make it 4-1 and then a consolation penalty deep into stoppage time, for an Iran side that poignantly stood in silence during the national anthem in a stand of solidarity with those being mistreated, imprisoned and killed for protesting in the country for gender equality.

Bale Wales’ saviour

Gareth Bale celebrates after scoring from the spot against the United States (Nick Potts/PA).
Gareth Bale (left) drew Wales level in the 82nd minute against the United States (Nick Potts/PA)

Wales secured a point in their first World Cup match since 1958 thanks to skipper Bale’s spot-kick with eight minutes of normal time remaining at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.

The penalty, awarded when Bale was fouled by Tim Ream, cancelled out Timothy Weah’s 36th-minute strike for the US.

Dutch delight

In Group A, the Netherlands defeated Senegal 2-0 thanks to late goals from Cody Gakpo and Davy Klaassen.

Gakpo put Louis van Gaal’s men in front in the 84th minute and substitute Klaassen added a stoppage-time effort.

Controversies

Iran goalkeeper Ali Beiranvand after his collision (Mike Egerton/PA).
Iran goalkeeper Ali Beiranvand after his collision (Mike Egerton/PA).

Hours before Monday’s match action got under way, it emerged that European nations including England, Wales and the Netherlands had decided against wearing the ‘One Love’ armbands their captains were going to don after FIFA threatened sporting sanctions.

The rainbow-coloured anti-discrimination armband had been set to be a strong statement in a country which criminalises same-sex relationships, but the fear of players picking up bookings saw teams make a late U-turn and FIFA’s ‘no discrimination’ armband, which is not rainbow coloured, being worn instead.

Another talking point just before the England game was supporters having trouble getting into the stadium after FIFA’s ticketing app failed, delaying entry, and there was then further controversy early on in the match as Iran goalkeeper Ali Beiranvand collided face first with team-mate Majid Hosseini and was initially allowed to continue playing before leaving on a stretcher. Iran boss Carlos Queiroz said Beiranvand had suffered a “serious concussion”.

Picture of the day

Bale (bottom left) celebrates with his team-mates after his penalty (Nick Potts/PA).
Bale (bottom left) celebrates with his Wales team-mates after his penalty (Nick Potts/PA)

Tweet of the day

Who’s up next?

Group C: Argentina v Saudi Arabia (1000, ITV1), Mexico v Poland (1600, BBC One)

Group D: Denmark v Tunisia (1300, ITV1), France v Australia (1900, BBC One)