GELENDZHIK, Russia, June 17, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Iceland’s battling 1-1 draw
against Argentina in their first-ever World Cup match was a “schoolbook”
example of how to keep Lionel Messi quiet, the coach of the Nordic minnows
Alfred Finnbogason cancelled out Sergio Aguero’s opening goal before Hannes
Halldorsson saved a Messi penalty in the second half on Saturday as Iceland
emerged with a creditable point.
“If you are teaching defence against such a team then this 90 minutes is a
schoolbook example of how to do it,” coach Heimir Hallgrimsson told reporters
at the team’s Black Sea coast base near Gelendzhik.
“To deny a team like Argentina that has incredible individual skills, you
have to close the spaces and defend correctly one on one,” he said.
“It was not one player who stopped Messi or any of the others, it was
“You have to respect Messi like you do everyone you play against but if you
stand by and idolise him he’s going to take advantage of that and go past
you, so you have to play your normal game,” said captain Aron Gunnarsson.
The island nation of 330,000 is the smallest ever to qualify for the World
Cup finals but emphatically showed again they can mix it with the
heavyweights of the game.
At Euro 2016, Iceland drew against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and
famously beat England on the way to the quarter-finals.
The point won against Argentina creates a “more relaxed atmosphere and
easier sleep” in the run-up to Iceland’s next tie against Group D opponents
Nigeria in Volgograd on Friday, said Hallgrimsson.
“We knew a point would be a good result but it’s just business done,” said
Gunnarsson. “We can’t dwell on it, or think that we’ve won something. If we
don’t focus on Nigeria, then that point will be good for nothing”.