MOSCOW (Reuters) – Tiny Iceland made a stunning impact in their first-ever World Cup yesterday when they held 2014 runners-up Argentina to a pulsating 1-1 draw but Lionel Messi’s tournament began wretchedly as he saw his penalty saved by Hannes Halldorsson.
Sergio Aguero gave the two-time world champions the lead after 19 minutes before Iceland, showing the same commitment and self-belief that saw them stun the soccer world with their run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, hit back four minutes later through Alfred Finnbogason.
Argentina, playing in all-black and roared on by the vast majority of the crowd in a rocking Spartak Stadium, eventually took command, delivering wave after wave of attacks in the second half.
Yet they actually created few clear chances either side of the poorly-struck 64th-minute penalty by Messi, who drew a blank despite a remarkable 11 shots during the match.
Iceland, by far the smallest country by population to appear at a World Cup and inspired by their “thunderclapping” fans, ran and battled tirelessly as they wrote another unlikely chapter in their short but glorious major tournament history.
“People say we celebrate when we won a point — wait and see how we celebrate when we’ve won a game,” said Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson.
Man of the match Halldorsson said he had done his homework on Messi, who has now missed four of his last seven penalties for club and country.
“I looked at a lot of penalties by Messi and I also looked at how I had been behaving in previous penalties, so I tried to get into their mindset, how they would be thinking about me,” he said.
Frustrated Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli tried to remain upbeat. “We need to be strong as a group, believe in ourselves and know we have all the tools to beat anybody,” he said.
France beat Australia 2-1
Denmark beat Peru 1-0
Croatia beat Nigeria 2-0.
Costa Rica opposes Serbia
Germany opposes Mexico
Brazil plays Switzerland