Iceland continued their Cinderella story as they held Argentina to a creditable 1-1 draw at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on Saturday
The Iceland story continues to earn admirers aplenty with each passing game. If their exploits at Euro 2016 were memorable enough, their first-ever qualification to the FIFA World Cup paved the way for more history to be created in June. And, history certainly was created on Saturday against Argentina.
The Nordic outfit showed no big stage fright whatsoever, as they went toe-to-toe with a Lionel Messi-led Argentina with aplomb. They may have fallen behind to Sergio Aguero’s first-ever goal at the World Cup, but didn’t let that moment open the floodgates as Heimir Hallgrimsson’s men were soon level again thanks to Alfred Finnbogason.
Thereafter, Iceland defended resolutely against a determined, albeit underperforming Argentina attack. As the game entered its final 30 minutes, it looked like the Cinderella story could end abruptly as La Albiceleste were awarded a penalty.
However, Hannes Thor Halldorsson rose to the occasion, denying Messi and earning his side a well deserved 1-1 win. With Iceland recording their first-ever point in World Cup history, The Hard Tackle picks out three players who impressed the most in Moscow.
The history maker for Iceland. No one else can claim to be Iceland’s first-ever World Cup goalscorer. Can it get any better for Alfred Finnbogason. The 29-year-old, who had enjoyed a fine season in Bundesliga with FC Augsburg in 2017-18 produced a tremendous performance on Saturday.
That he got very few touches on the ball in the entire match makes this spectacle all the more memorable for him, with his goal showcasing his superb awareness and finishing ability. In addition to the goal, Finnbogason also impressed with his willingness to defend as Iceland put men behind the ball for the majority of the match.
On the where it mattered for him, he always looked like a menace whenever Iceland got forward, keeping a nervy Marcos Rojo on his toes while stretching play magnificently. What a day to remember for the Iceland number 11.
The Iceland captain didn’t do anything spectacular on Saturday, far from it, in fact. But, while his contribution against Argentina might go under the radar, it was equally important as the likes of Finnbogason and Halldorsson in earning the minnows their historic first point in the World Cup.
Sitting in the middle of the park, 29-year-old kept his side organised around him, and personally took up the responsibility of marking Lionel Messi for large parts of the game. The vocal captain’s actions meant that a disciplined Iceland didn’t give Argentina an inch of space through the middle, forcing them wide to cross the ball in, which worked in their favour.
Additionally, his throw-ins were a menace for Argentina, reaching deep into the opposition box and giving his teammates a few more half chances at goal. While he was unable to last the entire 90 minutes, it was a job well done by Gunnarsson, who admirably led his men with vigour.
Hannes Thor Halldorsson
Saving the best for last is one of the major reasons why Iceland were able to earn a point on Saturday. The experienced goalkeeper, and part-time filmmaker, produced a brave outing like the defenders ahead of him, whose contributions were emphatic as well.
Halldorsson, in particular though, was a near-impenetrable wall that left a certain Lionel Messi scratching his head. Before his unforgettable penalty save, the 34-year-old kept the Argentina captain at bay on two separate occasions, showing superb awareness to complement the defender’s performance.
But, he wasn’t done after a rather simple penalty save, as he had to remain alert to parry away a goal-bound Cristian Pavon strike from distance to preserve the point. A performance that will go down in the history of Icelandic football as one of the finest ever, directed in stellar fashion by Halldorsson.