It was a missed opportunity for Lionel Messi’s Argentina as they opened their World Cup tournament with a 1-1 draw against Iceland.
The South American side scraped through qualifying, but stumbled in the first game as Messi missed a penalty despite leading through Sergio Aguero’s clever first half finish.
Iceland are looking to replicate their Euro 2016 heroics and were only behind for four minutes as Alfred Finnbogason scored to frustrate one of the favourites for the tournament.
You could argue Argentina are one of the favourites on name only as they very nearly didn’t qualify. They needed some Messi magic to get to Russia but their reliance on the Barcelona man seemed to go against them today as Iceland tactically frustrated them from the first whistle.
It was the European side who had the first clear chance of the game and Aston Villa’s Birkir Bjarnason was guilty of missing a big opportunity. Argentina gave the ball away in a horrific defensive position and it fell through for the midfielder from ten yards, but the man nicknamed ‘Thor’ due to his likeness with the Marvel character side-footed wide when it looked easier to hit the target.
Argentina’s game-plan seemed to be one clear mission: get the ball to Lionel Messi. Iceland saw it straight away and everytime the attacker got the ball, there was at least three white shirts around him. That’s not to say they kept him quiet though as a blasting long-range strike kept Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson on his toes with a good diving save.
It took 19 minutes for the first goal to come and it was an incredible finish from Manchester City’s Aguero. Messi’s pass didn’t give the striker much room, but he didn’t need it as he blasted into the top corner from 15 yards with his weaker left-foot. It was an elite finish from a striker seen as one of the best in the world and he proved why with the quality of the goal.
It wouldn’t have been surprising to see Iceland sink after falling behind, but they responded with a well-worked goal of their own. Gylfi Sigurdsson drilled in a low cross that Bjarnason turned towards goal and after Willy Caballero kept it out, Finnbogason was waiting to ram home the rebound.
Iceland weren’t just defensively sound. Their long-ball tactics proved to be a danger on the counter-attack and they were nearly 2-1 up just before half-time. Sigurdsson showed great feet to weave past two Argentina defenders, but his low shot was well saved by Cabellero from a tight angle.
The 1986 winners will have been expecting to win this game and they had the perfect opportunity from the spot in the 63rd minute. Aguero was tumbled down in the box from a Messi cross and the country’s leading star took charge to take the penalty. Many expected the net to bulge but a superb diving save from Halldorsson was greeted by a huge Icelandic roar and Argentina looked bereft of idea.
They forced a couple of decent saves from long-range but never really broke down the Icelandic defence as the game petered out. For Argentina, it is definitely two points dropped but for Iceland, it was their first ever World Cup point.
Match Report written by Kyle Dixon (@kyledixon95)