Argentina face a potential banana skin opponent in their first Group D match versus Iceland on Saturday. It only takes a look back to Euro 2016 to see what they could achieve as they appeared in their first ever major tournament, the smallest nation to ever have done so. Boss Heimir Hallgrimsson has kept the majority of the side together who would shoot to fame after sensationally beating England in the last 16 to reach a quarter-final with France.
They would be well-beaten by the eventual finalists, but were the side who famously caused Cristiano Ronaldo to have a hissy-fit after their 1-1 draw with Portugal in the group stage. “I thought they’d won the Euros the way they celebrated at the end,” declared the Real Madrid forward. “It was unbelievable. When they don’t try to play and just defend, defend, defend. This in my opinion shows a small mentality and they are not going to do anything in the competition.”
Everton’s Gylfi Sigurdsson has moved mountains in his quest to be fit for the opening fixture, having last played a competitive match back on March 10th, when he sustained a knee injury for his club side. The forward may therefore be a little rusty, but it is important not to forget that he was Iceland’s top scorer in qualifying with four goals.
This only serves to highlight just how careful not to be complacent fellow superstar Lionel Messi will have to be in this fixture. Iceland will certainly be up for a fight after having qualified for the tournament in first place in Group I, forcing Croatia to enter via the playoffs. Yet the number 10 is used to the pressure to perform, having scored seven in qualifying and fired in four of Argentina’s last seven goals at the World Cup finals.
The Barcelona superstar will undoubtedly be the first on boss Jorge Sampaoli’s teamsheet in a 4-2-3-1 that will see Messi lineup alongside Angel Di Maria of PSG and Independiente forward Maximiliano Meza, the latter likely to be the one to replace injured Manuel Lanzini in the side. Striker Sergio Aguero looks set to have beaten Juventus hitman Gonzalo Higuain to a place in the starting lineup, his 30 strikes in all competitions for Manchester City beating the tally of 23 achieved by his compatriot in their respective domestic leagues.
While Iceland represent a formidable opponent, Argentina do have historically good performances on their side. The Albiceleste have been present at the last 12 World Cups in a row, having gone past the first round on no less than 11 of those occasions. Topping their qualifying group in 2006, 2010 and 2014, this team have also won their opening game in the last six editions of the tournament, making a victory this match a big ask for Iceland, a nation of just 334,000 inhabitants.
A traditional giant vs. plucky underdog clash has all the key ingredients to be a truly entertaining encounter for the neutral, a challenge that Argentina must successfully overcome in order to silence their critics.
How well do you know European and world football? Want to challenge the best Fantasy Football Managers? Play www.fantasy-worldcup.com now!