It was always going to be an uphill task for Iceland to repeat their giantkilling act from Euro 2016 when they got to the quarterfinals, but they gave it a fair go against a largely uninspired Argentina as Group D got underway.
The World Cup is the biggest showcase for the game and in their first appearance, Iceland and their fans didn’t suffer from stage fright either. While the South Americans held an overwhelming majority of possession, Iceland defended as a unit and apart from a moment of brilliance from Sergio Aguero, kept out their most illustrious opponents.
Try as Lionel Messi might, the Scandinavians continued to hold strong and even conceded a penalty taken by Messi that Man of the Match goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson saved well from. It ended 1-1, another famous result for Iceland but once again disappointment for Messi and Co.
Everton fans will be thrilled to see Gylfi Sigurdsson back on the pitch after missing over two months with a knee injury. In fact, today’s game was his first full match since returning from his ailment and he came through unscathed. He set-up Iceland’s only goal with a fierce cross-shot from the right wing that goalkeeper Willy Caballero failed to hold and Alfred Finnbogasson hammered home emphatically.
Sigurdsson had a couple of other chances as well, with a shot well saved and another volley from the edge of the box bouncing harmlessly wide in the first half. He didn’t get out of his own half much in the second half with Iceland under siege.
xG map for Argentina - Iceland. Excellent bend-but-don't-break defending, a few good moments exploiting the Argentina back line, and juuuuuust a little luck on penalties got Iceland a famous result. pic.twitter.com/VCOsFfbBvb— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) June 16, 2018
In the group’s other clash, Croatia were efficient in downing a young Nigeria side that struggled to play coherently for most of the game. A deflected own goal from a Mario Mandzukic header followed by a neatly dispatched penalty from Luka Modric was all it took in a game that otherwise lacked clear chances.
xG map for Croatia - Nigeria— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) June 16, 2018
and so our watch has ended pic.twitter.com/XLkPWNm1ho
Argentina will be disappointed to find themselves in the position they’re in, but the next four games in Group D will prove decisive.