Moscow: Group D of the FIFA World Cup 2018 got underway at the Spartak Stadium as two-time champion Argentina were held to a 1-1 draw by a performance that personified the word ‘dogged’ by debutants Iceland.
The early stages of the match were a bit frantic as Iceland got off on the front foot right from the kick off as they made their way to the Argentine penalty box for their star man Gylfi Sigurdsson to unleash a tame effort at Willy Caballero from 20 yards.
Iceland, however, had a golden opportunity to score when an error from an Argentine goal kick conceded possession and left the goal at the mercy of Birkir Bjarnason, whose shot was pulled just wide of the post.
The first goal came after a Marcos Rojo shot was collected by Sergio Aguero, who, on the swivel, rifled the ball into the top corner of the net beyond a hapless Hannes Halldorsson in goal.
The celebrations were short-lived, however, as Gylfi Sigurdsson drilled in a low cross into the danger zone, with Caballero only managing to parry it into the path of Alfred Finnbogason, dispatched the ball into the empty net for his nation’s first ever goal scored in a FIFA World Cup.
The two teams then resorted to a more pragmatic approach to the game, displaying two polar opposite styles of football strategy.
For the remainder of the first half and for vast periods of the second half, Argentina were restricted to playing the ball around the compact and organized Iceland defence, without managing to unlock a back door to goal.
The apparently decisive moment arrived at the 63rd minute when a challenge from Hordur Magnusson on Maximiliano Meza inside the penalty box resulted in the referee pointing to the spot.
As he stepped up to the penalty spot to hand Argentina the lead in the match and possibly the nerve-calming first three points of the World Cup campaign, Messi, a player who so often does what seems humanly impossible, failed to convert from 12 yards, as his poor shot was saved.
Iceland then saw off the game with just the kind of resistance they put up for the rest of the match, and spare a few half-chances for the Albiceleste, their defensive solidarity made one of the most potent attacks in the world seem like light work.
The full-time whistle was blown after a Messi free-kick ricocheted off the wall in the 95th minute of stoppage time.
The Barcelona ace’s eleven attempts in the game without scoring pales in comparison with Cristiano Ronaldo’s four attempts for his first hattrick in World Cup Finals.
However, this being just the first game of the month-long tournament, Messi and Argentina will get plenty of chances for redemption, starting on Thursday when they face Croatia. (ANI)