Give me a second. Just trying to work out if there were any notable stories from all of yesterday’s action at the 2022 Qatar World Cup, a tournament of inflated stadium attendances and stoppage time but otherwise a fine showcase for Harry ‘Slabhead’ Maguire’s aerial prowess at attacking corners.
There was the small matter of Saudi Arabia tipping the footballing world on its head by beating Argentina 2-1, leaving Lionel Messi slightly on the brink of group stage exit in what will be his final World Cup after only a single game.
Given how abject both Mexico and Poland looked in Group C’s other game, there is still a slither of hope for Messi and company. For now, let’s turn our attention to one of the heroes on the day.
Harry Symeou hosts Scott Saunders, Grizz Khan and Jack Gallagher to look back on France ’98 as part of the ‘Our World Cup’ series. We take a trip down memory lane – join us!
If you can’t see the podcast embed, click here to download or listen to the episode in full!
Herve Renard somehow looks like this in every single photo / James Williamson – AMA/GettyImages
Given that Saudi Arabia manager Herve Renard already looks like this – a man who wouldn’t look out of place stealing James Bond’s latest love interest, or pummelling him to death in a stairwell – he should probably be considered a winner every single day of the week and twice on Wednesday.
Certainly twice this Wednesday after he masterminded one of the biggest upsets we’ve ever seen at a World Cup, with Saudi Arabia (Saudi Arabia!) coming back from behind to stun Argentina. Add to that a résumé containing two African Cup of Nations titles with both Zambia (Zambia!) and Ivory Coast and a wardrobe full of the crispest, tightest white shirts you’ve ever seen in your life, and Renard is just killing it all round.
Argentina’s 36-game unbeaten streak came to an abrupt end / Matthew Ashton – AMA/GettyImages
It was the most inauspicious of starts for Argentina, who landed in Qatar as one of the pre-tournament favourites along with Brazil. While many under the age of 15 years old would be quick to point out that Messi is the de facto loser here and ‘needs to hold that L’, or something, I’d rather grant loser status to the entire nation of 46 million people rather than single out the greatest footballer of all time.
Oh, and just to add, Jack Grealish’s goal against Iran also broke the record for most passes in the build-up to a World Cup goal. So hold that L, Esteban Cambiasso, Argentina and your *checking notes, scoffing uncontrollably* otherwise lovely 24-pass effort in 2006. That Hernan Crespo backheel does still belong in the Louvre, however.
The moment of the World Cup so far / Stefan Matzke – sampics/GettyImages
Bringing the ball down on a velvet cushion, skinning two players and curling in the single most important goal in your country’s footballing history is, in contrast, ‘a huge W’ and/or ‘a monstrous dub’. Cue the memes of Robbie from AFTV with a cigar in his mouth or sat on a plane or just standing there looking very pleased with himself.
Take a bow then, Salem Al-Dawsari, a player once described by (who else) Bafetimbi Gomis as the best in the entire continent of Asia. It isn’t my place as a football journalist to comment on the validity of that statement, but I will add that his nickname is ‘The Tornado’, so… make of that what you will.
Lewandowski missed a penalty for Poland for only the second time / Marvin Ibo Guengoer – GES Sportfoto/GettyImages
While largely anonymous for much of Poland’s opening game against Mexico, Robert Lewandowski had the chance to put his team in front from the penalty spot and score a first World Cup goal in the process. Enter Guillermo Ochoa.
It wouldn’t be a World Cup without this man in goal / Marvin Ibo Guengoer – GES Sportfoto/GettyImages
No World Cup is complete without North America’s finest brick wall impersonator Guillermo Ochoa, nor his devastating hair and headband combo. This is now the Mexico captain’s fifth tournament and there was no better way to celebrate that and cap number 132 than getting down low to his left to deny Lewandowski’s spot-kick. Ochoa is 37 years old, but also, somehow, eternal.
36 years old but still a nuisance in the box / Marc Atkins/GettyImages
With Karim Benzema out of the tournament through injury it was up to the most handsome carthorse in football Olivier Giroud to lead the French forward line, as he did four years ago during their triumph in Russia.
He did so against Australia with aplomb, bringing the very best out of Kylian Mbappe to his left and scoring his 51st international goal – bringing him level with Thierry Henry as his nation’s joint all-time top goalscorer – as France ran away comfortable 4-1 winners.
Add to that renowned lump Kieffer Moore’s impressive display after coming on for Wales at half-time on Sunday, and it’s been a fine start to the tournament for one of the WWF’s most endangered species: the simple target man. Let’s not talk about Andreas Cornelius’ miss from point-blank range for Denmark, please. He doesn’t count.
Denmark and Tunisia played out a chaotic 0-0 draw, best summarised by Cornelius’ facial expression here / Anadolu Agency/GettyImages
A World Cup wouldn’t be complete without sedative 0-0 draws that make you yearn for club football, would it? We were treated to two on Tuesday.
Truth be told, Denmark’s stalemate against Tunisia was about as enthralling as a 0-0 could be, with thrills and spills at both ends, 10 minutes of stoppage time and late penalty drama. It did, however, contain John Hartson, a co-commentator who talks about football with all the passion and enlightenment of an illiterate Medieval peasant describing how to plough a field. No offence, John.
Mexico versus Poland, which did not contain John Hartson, was somehow even worse.
Keep faith, World Cup purists watching every game. We will be rewarded soon enough. I type, having just watched Croatia and Morocco fumble their way through Wednesday’s morning game out of the corner of my eye. With John Hartson on comms.