Lionel Messi, aged 35, has an extensive collection of trophies, but the upcoming tournament in Qatar is likely to be his last opportunity to match the achievement of his fellow Argentine legend, Diego Maradona, in leading his country to World Cup glory.

Following their 5-0 victory against the United Arab Emirates in a friendly match in Abu Dhabi, Messi and the Argentina squad arrived in the Qatari capital, Doha, at 2:30 am (2330 GMT, Wednesday).

The South American team, considered one of the favorites in this year’s World Cup, will begin their campaign on Tuesday against Saudi Arabia in Group C, alongside Mexico and Poland.

Having scored his 91st international goal, Messi and the 1978 and 1986 World Cup winners extended their unbeaten streak to 36 matches.

United Arab Emirates' defender Khalifa Al Hammadi marks Argentina's forward Lionel Messi (L) during the friendly football match between Argentina and the United Arab Emirates at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, on November 16, 2022. Photo: AFP

United Arab Emirates’ defender Khalifa Al Hammadi marks Argentina’s forward Lionel Messi (L) during the friendly football match between Argentina and the United Arab Emirates at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, on November 16, 2022. Photo: AFP

Messi, however, remains cautious about Argentina’s chances in Qatar, despite being among the favorites.

“We have a very talented and motivated group, but we understand that World Cup groups are never easy,” said the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner in an interview with CONMEBOL, the South American football federation.

The Reigning Champions

France, aiming to become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to retain the World Cup, arrived in Doha on Wednesday.

The squad includes ten members from their victorious 2018 campaign, such as captain Hugo Lloris, Kylian Mbappe, and Antoine Griezmann.

However, the defending champions, placed in Group B alongside Australia, Denmark, and Tunisia, will be without key midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante.

Karim Benzema, the Ballon d’Or winner, who missed several games for Real Madrid this season due to injury, is set to make his World Cup appearance since 2014.

After an eight-year absence, the United States returns to the world stage, where Christian Pulisic sees the tournament as an opportunity to reshape global perceptions of American soccer.

“That’s our aim,” Pulisic expressed to AFP. “Soccer might not have been the most prominent sport in the United States, but we want to change that narrative. It’s one of our goals.”

France's forward Kylian Mbappe arrives at the Hamad International Airport in Doha on November 16, 2022, ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament. Photo: AFP

France’s forward Kylian Mbappe arrives at the Hamad International Airport in Doha on November 16, 2022, ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament. Photo: AFP

In the run-up to the tournament in Qatar, concerns surrounding Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers, women, and the LGBTQ community have dominated the discussion.

FIFA, the international governing body of football, has urged a focus shift to the sport, but some countries have ignored this plea.

Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal supported the supporters boycotting the tournament, acknowledging their decision as justified. Nevertheless, he hoped that his team’s performance would sway those fans to support them from afar.

“I hope we play so exceptionally well that by the end of the tournament, when we reach the final, they will be watching on television and realize our true capabilities,” he stated.

Earlier this year, the experienced coach criticized FIFA, describing their decision to award Qatar the World Cup as “ridiculous.”

“In my opinion, football tournaments should be held in countries with a rich football history, as they possess more experience in handling such events,” he argued.

South Korea's Son Heung-min wearing a protective face mask takes part in a training session at Al Egla Training Site 5 in Doha on November 16, 2022, ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament. Photo: AFP

South Korea’s Son Heung-min wearing a protective face mask takes part in a training session at Al Egla Training Site 5 in Doha on November 16, 2022, ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament. Photo: AFP

“Fake Fans” Controversy

As Gareth Southgate’s England team arrived at their World Cup base, Indian supporters outnumbered fans from England by almost ten to one.

These supporters were infuriated by reports in the British and French media that labeled them as “fake fans.”

Sajidh, a 29-year-old supporter, indicated that Indian football fans in Qatar were outraged by the suggestion that they had been paid to wear the shirts of World Cup teams.

“This is purely fake news, and I want to state clearly that none of us have been compensated in any way,” said Sajidh, who preferred to be identified by only one name. “We are genuine England fans.”

Organizers of the World Cup addressed the issue on Wednesday, countering the claims by stating that fans from around the world have contributed to the vibrant atmosphere in Qatar.

“Numerous journalists and commentators on social media have questioned the authenticity of these fans’ support. Such assertions are both disappointing and unsurprising, and we firmly reject them,” their statement read.