The Otkritie Arena in Russia (home of Spartak Moscow) will host the first group D game of the 2018 World Cup as Lionel Messi and Argentina eye success against the Icelandic.
The Group D fixture will be the first ever meeting between Argentina and Iceland as Gylfi Sigurdsson and co aim to upset the odds. Argentina have now qualified for their 17th World Cup which makes this their 12th participation in a row. Argentina have gone past the first round in 11 of their previous 12 World Cup appearances.
However, the heavy reliance on starman Messi for goals is alarming. Only Bolivia (18) scored fewer goals than Argentina (19) in the CONMEBOL qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup. Messi will need teammates such as Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria, and Paulo Dybala to step up on the big stage to have any chance of pushing for the 2018 World Cup final.
Iceland can be seen as dark horses in this tournament after their Euro 2016 heroics especially when they showed that Viking tenacity of theirs to beat England 2-1 when they were the clear underdogs. They have a remarkably difficult task ahead of them as they will be asked again to overachieve on a massive stage. If Sigurdsson, Aron Gunnarsson, and Johann Gudmundsson can show their class then Iceland are a shout to reach the knockouts.
Argentina play a high-risk style of play throwing men forward in a relentless commitment to attack the defence. Argentina have rich attacking resources at their disposal with the likes of Di Maria, Dybala, Messi, and Aguero. The 2018 World Cup will be the last World Cup Messi will play during his peak years and it will be interesting to see how Jorge Sampaoli integrates the Barcelona star. Iceland will have to watch out for Argentina’s high intensity and pressing as managing their attack will give them a chance to counter-attack and expose them at the back.
Iceland have introduced the return of 4-4-2 to football when everyone thought that the once popular formation was dying out of the game. The question everyone is asking is how did this tiny island of 200,000 people qualify for the 2018 World Cup? Iceland have gone retro with their style of play and they have proven that you don’t need to have a lot of possession to come out on top. Attacking teams struggle to do a lot of damage closer than 30 yards away from their goal and all Iceland need is one or two forwards to take a chance at the other end and they can see out the game and pick up a win.
Argentina: Caballero, Salvio, Otamendi, Roho, Tagliafico, Mascherano, Biglia, Meza, Messi, Di Maria, Aguero
Iceland: Halldorsson, Eyjolfsson, Arnason, R. Sigurdsson, Skulason, Gudmundsson, Sigurdsson, Gunnarsson, Bjarnason, Finnbogason, Sigurdarson
Manuel Lanzini is out of the tournament despite being picked for the squad due to an ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) sustained in training. Tottenham’s Erik Lamela and Atlanta United’s Ezequiel Barco were considered to replace the West Ham man. However, River Plate midfielder Enzo Perez was the man chosen to join the squad.
Iceland did have some doubts over their two key players Gunnarsson and playmaker Sigurdsson. Sigurdsson was out with a knee injury for Everton and Gunnarsson was recovering from knee surgery in late April. However, both midfielders have fully recovered and have made the trip to Russia with Iceland.
Players to Watch
Argentina – Lionel Messi
The Barcelona star is Argentina’s best hope of reaching the World Cup final since their heartbreak in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil when Mario Gotze scored a late winner after extra time to give Germany the win. Messi is arguably the best player in the world right now and time is running out for the Argentinian to win a World Cup. Can he take Argentina to victory or will it be another missed opportunity to add the World Cup to his trophy collection?
Iceland – Gylfi Sigurdsson
The Everton man has had a disappointing season following his transfer from Swansea City and he will be looking to improve on that in the game against Argentina. The Icelandic starman has a venomous long shot and I would be terrified to concede a set-piece anywhere near the opposition goal with his ability. If Argentina become too complacent, then Sigurdsson is bound to punish them and earn his side a shock win against the Argentinians.
Everyone will want Iceland to win this one. I mean who doesn’t love an underdog story? However, everything is stacked heavily against them but they were solid in qualification for the World Cup and they are capable of an upset especially after their Euro 2016 victory’s over England.
When you look at Argentina overall with the likes of Messi, Aguero, and Dybala likely to threaten most defences in the tournament, they should have too much for the Icelandic to handle. I can see a comfortable win for the Argentinians but I think Iceland will get a goal here.
Argentina 2-1 Iceland