The rivalry discussed before the Argentina vs. Iceland match was not between the two teams lining up at kick off. Instead, it was between the two players in the ultimate GOAT contest.
Following Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal celebration simulating the stroking of a goat beard after burying three goals from four attempts against Spain, the entire world was waiting to see what was expected to be Lionel Messi’s right of reply against Iceland. But the underdogs had other ideas; managing to keep Messi caged to play out a 1-all draw in front of a sell out crowd at Spartak Stadium.
The game was a textbook example of how statistics do not tell the whole story and just how juxtaposing two teams situations can be within the competition. Argentina presented with a star-studded line-up: Di Maria, Messi, Agüero and Dybala to name a few, with Iceland presenting as a team unit with nothing to lose.
Argentina’s Mascherano became the most capped player with his 144th international appearance, whilst Iceland were playing in their first ever World Cup campaign. Argentina had an obligation to their rich football history, whilst Iceland had the freedom to write their own fairy-tale.
The only thing flat about the first half was one of the match balls, with both teams starting fast with end-to-end peppering of the box. Early chances included set pieces from Messi in the 5thand 9thminute, with Iceland’s reply only coming a short-time later in the 10th with Sigurdsson narrowly missing the chance to put the Vikings ahead.
And with the continued assault on the box came the inevitable; Argentina opened their scoring account in the 19th via a sharp pirouette and strike in the box from Agüero to pen his first ever goal for Argentina on the World Cup stage.
It was at this moment that Iceland was at risk of opening the floodgates for an Argentinian goal-fest. However, this risk was quickly ameliorated 5 minutes later through a poor defensive effort by Argentina and Caballero’s hesitation, with Alfred Finnbogason writing himself into the history books to score Iceland’s maiden World Cup goal to draw level.
The remainder of the first half was characterised by Argentina dominating possession, with 74 percent of the ball at the break. However, Iceland presented as comfortable with allowing Argentina to have the ball for large periods but never giving them the space to convert.
Iceland continued the same game plan into the second half, remaining defensively strong and pouncing on any opportunity to press at the right moment if they were given even a sniff.
Referee Szymon Marciniak had some big decisions to make within the game, although none involving a card or VAR intervention. Marciniak waved away a handball in the box claim for both sides within the 42nd and 51st minutes. However, Marciniak did not hesitate to point to the spot in the 64th following Magnusson’s clumsy collision with Agüero.
Messi lined up to take his 14th penalty for Argentina, however the down the middle shot was tapped away by Halldórsson, earning the keeper not only the loudest Viking clap round of applause but also the MOTM title; not bad for someone whose day job is as a film director.
Iceland’s sheer will to compete continued to have Argentina up against it in the remainder of the second half, despite only holding 22% possession for the game. Messi continued to miss an opportunity at the 82ndwith his shot going just wide of the post, whilst Pavon and Mascherano drew saves from Halldórsson to see out the end of regulation time.
The preceding five minutes of injury time had Icelandic fans holding their breath and saw Messi’s 9th attempt at goal sail over the net in what sealed an unthinkable day in Iceland’s football history.
The result felt more like a win for Iceland, providing the ultimate pay-off for the investment they have placed at the grassroots level of the game, climbing 100 international rankings within the past 6 years. In contrast, this could be chalked off as a loss not only Argentina who have surrendered vital ground within Group D, which has been labelled the closest to a “Group of Death” at the 2018 World Cup, but also for Messi, who failed to convert from 9 chances in front of the eyes of countryman Maradona. Argentina will have all the work to do against Croatia, who currently top group D, whilst Iceland hope to continue their dream campaign against bottom-of-the-group Nigeria.
By Hayley Leedham