FIFA World Cup 2018: Lionel Messi misses penalty as Iceland steal a point
Argentina fans vastly outnumbered their Icelandic counterparts among the 44,190-strong crowd at the Otkritie Arena as their teams kicked off their Group D encounter on a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon.
By the end of the game, the roars were heard only from Iceland fans as their team pulled off one of their great results, a 1-1 draw against Argentina, on their World Cup debut.
Smaller than the Luzhniki Stadium across the city, its compact structure meant the decibel levels can get much higher in the ground. As proceedings began, Iceland’s set-up was on expected lines.
Skipper Aron Gunnarsson made an early body check on Lionel Messi, pulling him down to the ground to send an early warning of how things were going to be for the remainder of the game.
That didn’t mean Heimir Hallgrimsson’s side was going to sit back. In the ninth minute, a sudden high press from Iceland saw Birkir Bjarnason getting to the end of a great chance.
With just Argentina goalkeeper Willy Caballero to beat, he fluffed his shot, sending it wide.
Argentina piled on the pressure with Messi’s influence clear though Gunnarsson and Emil Hallfredsson kept close to him.
In the 17th minute, his shot from the edge of the box was met with a roar by Argentina fans though it was punched away by Iceland keeper Hannes Halldorsson.
Two minutes later, the twice former champions got their goal. After Marcos Rojo scuffed a shot, the ball fell to Sergio Aguero inside the box and the Manchester City forward made a quick turn and blasted into the net from a tight angle.
Four minutes later though, the fans were hushed into silence. Gylfi Sigurdsson sent in a low shot across the goalmouth. Caballero palmed it but Alfred Finnbogason scored from the rebound.
The most vociferous group of Iceland fans were in one corner, and a few rounds of chanting were followed by their iconic Viking clap.
For the rest of the first half, Iceland frustrated Argentina, giving Messi, Aguero and Di Maria little room.
Argentina controlled possession in the second half without extracting much, but in the 63rd minute, Hordur Magnusson brought down Maximiliano Meza inside the box. The Argentina supporters, who had found their voices back, cheered wildly as Messi stepped up to take the penalty.
The night before, Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick against Spain had been the talk of the town. It was Messi’s turn to respond to his eternal rival.
But Halldorsson dived correctly, to his right, and palmed the shot away to safety. A roar, perhaps the loudest of the evening, erupted as jubilant Iceland fans celebrated.
Argentina stepped up a gear, but it wasn’t enough. Iceland were happy to chase the ball as long as they kept their famous opponents in check.
Argentina coach Sampaoli brought on Ever Banega, Cristian Pavon and Higuain but they could do little. Pavon had a penalty shout turned down in the 77th minute while his cross-cum-shot 10 minutes later was steered to safety by Halldorsson. But that’s as far as Argentina got. The smallest nation to play at the World Cup had tamed Messi and Co.
“This is a great success for Iceland. I firmly believe Argentina will go far in this World Cup, so it’s a fantastic result for us,” Halgrimsson summed it up in the post-match media conference.