Iceland’s midfielder Rurik Gislason (2nd R) and Iceland’s midfielder Arnor Traustason (R) take part in a training session at Spartak Stadium in Moscow on June 15, 2018, on the eve of their Russia 2018 World Cup Group D football match against Argentina. / AFP PHOTO / Yuri CORTEZ
Iceland’s battling 1-1 draw against Argentina in their first-ever World Cup match was a “schoolbook” example of how to keep Lionel Messi quiet, the coach of the Nordic minnows said Sunday.
Alfred Finnbogason cancelled out Sergio Aguero’s opening goal before Hannes Halldorsson saved a Messi penalty in the second half on Saturday as Iceland emerged with a creditable point.
“If you are teaching defence against such a team then this 90 minutes is a schoolbook example of how to do it,” coach Heimir Hallgrimsson told reporters at the team’s Black Sea coast base near Gelendzhik.
“To deny a team like Argentina that has incredible individual skills, you have to close the spaces and defend correctly one on one,” he said.
“It was not one player who stopped Messi or any of the others, it was collective teamwork.”
“You have to respect Messi like you do everyone you play against but if you stand by and idolise him he’s going to take advantage of that and go past you, so you have to play your normal game,” said captain Aron Gunnarsson.
The island nation of 330,000 is the smallest ever to qualify for the World Cup finals but emphatically showed again they can mix it with the heavyweights of the game.
At Euro 2016, Iceland drew against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and famously beat England on the way to the quarter-finals.
The point won against Argentina creates a “more relaxed atmosphere and easier sleep” in the run-up to Iceland’s next tie against Group D opponents Nigeria in Volgograd on Friday, said Hallgrimsson.
“We knew a point would be a good result but it’s just business done,” said Gunnarsson. “We can’t dwell on it, or think that we’ve won something. If we don’t focus on Nigeria, then that point will be good for nothing”.