Argentina and Iceland kicked things off in Group D of the 2018 FIFA World Cup with a thrilling encounter with over 44,000 fans in the stands. It was Iceland’s debut in a World Cup competition, and the Icelandic side certainly lived up to the expectations. Despite being the underdog on paper, Iceland came away with a rock-solid performance on defence and that allowed to clinch a 1-1 draw against La Albiceleste. Sergio Aguero scored for Argentina, and Alfred Finnbogason equalized for Iceland.
Argentina impresses, but Iceland comes through on their lone chance
Jorge Sampaoli’s men started the game applying pressure in the final third and quickly began to create chances. Led by an inspiring presence for Lionel Messi – who quickly made his teammates better – the team had two clear scoring chances before the 10th minute but both of his attempts came a bit wide. Iceland did not back down, however, and looked threatening when they approached the opposing final third. For what is worth, Wilfredo Caballero looked shaky between the posts and was not very accurate on his touches.
The game did not have a clear team dominating the contest, but Aguero came out of nowhere to break the deadlock. The Manchester City star received a ball inside the box, and within only an inch of space he found himself with enough space to place the ball into a difficult angle for Hannes Halldorsson. The advantage would not last long, though. A huge mistake from Caballero deflecting a shot allowed Finnbogason to pounce the rebound and make things 1-1 in the 23rd minute.
The remainder of the first half saw Argentina dominating the game and creating decent chances, but either Halldorsson or the team’s inaccuracy on the attacking end complicated La Albiceleste’s plan to flip the script and recover the lead.
Messi’s one-man efforts were not enough
Things wouldn’t change much in the second half. Iceland realized that a draw would not have been a bad result and they reverted their strategy to the point that they sat deep on the pitch trying to counter-attack. Meanwhile, Argentina continued controlling the ball and often tried to find spaces in the final third. However, the Scandinavian side at times had eight or nine players on the edge of their box. With that kind of strategy, it’s incredibly hard to find any sort of space.
Arguably Argentina’s biggest chance came in the 64th minute when Maximiliano Meza – one of Argentina’s best players today – was pushed inside the box and the referee called a penalty. Messi stepped up, but his execution was downright awful and Halldorsson didn’t have problems to parry it away. The game continued 1-1 with only 25 minutes left in the game, and the match did not change in the final minutes.
Indeed, Argentina never stopped attacking but it seemed that if Messi wasn’t the one creating chances, no one could. Not even the entrances of Cristian Pavon and Gonzalo Higuain allowed Argentina to generate the kind of space they needed in the final third. Iceland held on, Argentina kept crashing against Iceland’s defensive wall, and the final whistle blew in the 96th minute with the final score of 1-1.
Both teams can take several lessons out of this game. For Argentina, it is clear the team NEEDS to find some sort of identity – and soon. They simply can’t let Messi do everything because as Iceland proved today, closing him down could annul Argentina completely.
As for Iceland, the Scandinavian side lived up to the challenge of facing the best player in the world during their World Cup debut. They need to be better on the attacking third and at some point, they must take more risks, but there is no question that this was a decent debut considering the circumstances.
Up next Argentina will play against Croatia on June 21, while Iceland will take on Nigeria the day afterwards.
Argentina: Caballero (4); Salvio (5), Otamendi (6), Rojo (5), Tagliafico (6); Mascherano (6), Biglia (5) (Banega (6), 54’); Meza (7) (Higuain (-), 84’), Messi (7), Di Maria (5) (Pavon (-), 75’); Agüero (6)
Iceland: Halldorsson (8); Saevarsson (6), Arnason (7), Sigurdsson (6), Magnusson (5); Gudmunsson (5) (Gislason (5), 63’), Gunnarsson (6) (Skulason (-), 76’), Hallfredsson (6), Bjarnason (6); Sigurdsson (5); Finnbogason (6) (Sigurdarson (-), 89’)
Goals: Aguero (1-0, 19’), Finnbogason (1-1, 23’)
Referee: Szymon Marciniak (POL). Did not show yellow or red cards.
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