World Cup debutants Iceland’s highly defensive strategy paid off as they held formidable Argentina to a shock 1-1 draw in their Group D opener at Spartak Stadium in Moscow on Saturday.
Argentina’s key man Lionel Messi, who was expected to match his Portuguese rival Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick show at Sochi against Spain on Friday, got frustrated to find himself blocked by Icelandic players from scoring goals. When an opportunity finally came in the 64th minute from a penalty, Messi messed it up.
Argentina’s hope of winning the game with a solitary goal was dashed as Iceland equalised during a scramble at the goalmouth. In the end, they had to share a point with the World Cup first-timers.
When the game was into its ninth minute, Argentina almost gifted a goal following a blunder by its goalkeeper Willy Caballero but Icelandic mid-fielder Birkir Bjarnason shot wide.
Then Messi nearly scored a goal but Iceland’s goalkeeper Hannes Halldórsson saved it.
Sergio Aguero struck home in the 19th minute for Argentina from a Marcos Rojo cross by sending a left-footed shot into the top corner of the net.
Four minutes later, Iceland found the equaliser in a scramble at Argentina’s goalmouth. Alfred Finnbogason side-footed a cross from Gylfi Sigurdsson into the net past a grounded goalkeeper Willy Caballero.
During the second half, Messi got a chance to score from a penalty, but his spot-kick was saved by Halldórsson.
Messi’s 30 yard free kick in the dying moments of the game hit the post and bounced off.
Argentina boss Jorge Sampaoli defended Messi. He said it was an awkward game as Iceland played in their own half, blocking Messi’s outlets.
“They (Iceland) were solid in defence, which was hard to penetrate and it was difficult to find a place there,” Messi told journalists.
Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson said it was a great success for them to get a point against Argentina.
Halldorsson said a lot of homework helped him save the 64th minute penalty.