Argentina’s forward Lionel Messi reacts at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup Group D football match between Argentina and Iceland at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on June 16, 2018. Mladen ANTONOV / AFP
Debuntant Iceland, yesterday, made a stunning start to their World Cup appearance when they forced Argentina to a 1-1 draw in a dramatic encounter that Lionel Messi failed to seal a win for his country, after goalkeeper Hannes Por Halldorsson saved his penalty kick.
Sergio Aguero had given the twice world champions the lead after 19 minutes of the Group D match. However, Iceland, who stunned the soccer world with their run to the quarter-finals of the European Championship two years ago, showed exactly the same commitment and self-belief to hit back four minutes later through Alfred Finnbogason.
Argentina, playing in all-black and roared on by the vast majority of the crowd in the Spartak Stadium, eventually took command and delivered wave after wave of attacks in the second half. But they actually created few chances either side of Messi’s poorly-struck 64th-minute penalty.
Iceland, by far the smallest country by population to appear at the World Cup, famously beat England in the last 16 of Euro 2016, and again inspired by their “thunder-clapping” fans ran tirelessly and fought for everything.
They signalled their intent from the kick off, sending seven men charging into the box to challenge as the ball was pumped long and it proved to be just the first of many uncomfortable moments for a decidedly shaky Argentine defence.
The South Americans looked more assured in attack, though, and went ahead when Aguero turned tightly in the box and smashed in an unstoppable shot.
Iceland, however, are not a team to sit back and sulk and soon forced an equaliser when goalkeeper Willy Caballero palmed Gylfi Sigurdsson’s low shot straight into the path of Finnbogason to sweep into the unguarded net.