Russia 2018 Watch: Iceland freeze out Messi
PUBLISHED: 07:00 17 June 2018 | UPDATED: 11:45 17 June 2018
Read our World Cup blog which will be featuring over the coming weeks. Lee Power reviews one of the matches on day three of the tournament
GOAT? Lionel Messi?
Not on the evidence of these 90 minutes, when compared to the 90 the night before that saw Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo score a hat-trick in his side’s 3-3 draw with Spain.
Ronaldo scored an early penalty, saw David de Gea fumble a shot over the line and whipped a late free-kick into the top corner for a point-saving treble.
Messi, crowded by Iceland players throughout, had a penalty saved, fizzed and curled other efforts wide, then sent a last-gasp free-kick into the defensive wall. Debate over.
Argentina v Iceland was one of the first matches of the 2018 World Cup to sell out apparently, with the two countries sharing a history when it comes to knocking England out of major tournaments.
Eight of the 11 Iceland players to eliminate England from Euro 2016 started this one, having also frustrated Ronaldo two summers ago. “Can they do the same to Messi on their World Cup debut?” asked ITV’s Sam Matterface, prophetically.
When he also revealed one of the Iceland players had been chasing his two-year-old daughter around the hotel lobby, one wondered if they could maintain their energy levels, especially as they were “expecting to be without the ball a lot”.
Messi changed the ball before taking an early free-kick, then saw his whipped delivery deflected wide of the far post.
Only six minutes had been played when the first mention of a ‘Viking beard’ was made in commentary, with Bjarnason sending a great chance wide for his side moments later.
“The ball is spinning to be fair to him,” said Glenn Hoddle, who knew how to hit a spinning ball, to be fair.
Matterface told us Javier Mascherano was not a popular inclusion in the Argentine squad back home, yet the half-time stats showed him with a perfect 70/70 pass completion rate.
The ‘thunderclap’ had its first outing on the quarter-hour mark – no vuvuzelas this time thankfully – and we were told the population of Buenos Aires was 45 times that of the whole of Iceland, whose manager Heimar Hallgrimsson earns more from his job as a dentist than he does as national team coach.
Messi found space to fire in a shot that was punched clear by Hannes Halldorsson, before we learned Argentina had not missed a World Cup since 1970, used three managers in qualifying for Russia and would not have been there “if it hadn’t been for you know who”.
They took the lead on 19 minutes when Sergio Aguero smashed home a shot on the turn, for his first goal at his third World Cup, but Iceland were back on terms just three minutes later as Alfred Finnbogason slotted home in a goalmouth scramble.
“He speaks six languages,” said Matterface of the goalscorer, who went on to explain the demographics of Iceland thus.
“Because of its size, everyone knows someone who knows someone who went to school with someone who knows one of the players. You can see the unity in the celebrations,” he said.
“I don’t want to say they’re direct, but they’ve completed 22 passes out of 42 attempts in 29 minutes,” he added of Iceland’s efforts to that point.
Hoddle replied: “There’s no rights and wrongs in the way we play football.”
A great slo-mo replay then showed the referee tripping one of the Iceland players off the ball, which had Hoddle chucking off mic. “Can you book yourself?” he asked.
Argentina’s Biglia had suffered a double fracture of a lumbar vertebrae in April apparently, while the name of teammate Tagliafico rolled off the commentator’s tongue.
Ball hit an Icelandic hand in the box before the break, but VAR was having none of it.
“It’s been a really good first half, intriguing,” said Matterface, taking the words out of Hoddle’s mouth.
Argentina had dominated the pass count 333-70 as Iceland sat deep, putting up a wall of white shirts.
The second half began with what appeared to be a rendition of ‘Come on you Spurs’ from the crowd, with more great trivia about how Angel di Maria used to take four buses to get to school.
Messi tried to dribble into the box. “He’s got four around him and it took a fifth to stop him,” noted Matterface, who added: “There’s a bit of concern among the Argentine contingent”.
Apparently one of the Iceland players has created and published a board game, but then they conceded a penalty.
Messi stepped up, Halldorsson guessed right and pushed it aside.
“A national hero, a national icon, who put together the Eurovision 2012 entry for Iceland,” said Matterface.
Hang on. What?
“Smashing save,” added Hoddle. “He guessed right, he’s got a big frame. Messi didn’t get it in that bottom corner. It was the perfect height for the keeper. It’s not a great penalty is it?”
It turns out Messi has missed 21 of 86 spot-kicks for Barcelona.
He curled a free-kick over by some distance, before Cristian Pavon was sent on for the last 15 minutes. “He’s the same height as Kirsten Dunst,” said Matterface, matter of fact.
Pavon went down in the box soon after, but the referee waved play on, refusing to consult VAR.
TV replays showed there was contact and it should have been a penalty. Oh well.
Messi curled a shot just wide on 81 minutes.
Iceland’s manager had said in the build-up ‘the only war we’ve been involved in is the Cod War and nobody got hurt’. A small nation of pretty people, said Matterface.
Gonzalo Higuain came off the Argentine bench looking to add to his 31 goals from 72 caps.
Diego Maradona, cigar in hand, was non-plussed when a low, curling ball into the six-yard box was tipped wide by Halldorsson.
Messi fired a right-footed shot wide in stoppage time.
“You’re just expecting it to hit the net,” said Hoddle, who paid tribute to Iceland.
“They’re earning respect. It’s the system. Sit deep, hang tough, set plays.”
Sounded a bit like park the bus anti-football to me.
Then came the late, late free-kick chance for Messi. The comparison with Ronaldo’s exploits came to the fore again. Messi fired into the wall. Game over.