Tiny Iceland’s tenacious defense frustrated mighty Argentina and earned a 1-1 draw in Moscow on Saturday that will be celebrated much more vigorously in Reykjavik than in Buenos Aires.
Iceland, playing in its first World Cup, fell behind in the 19th minute on a beautiful goal by Sergio Aguero, his first at a Cup.
But just five minutes later, Iceland equalized, as Alfred Finnbogason took advantage of a disorganized Argentina defense to tie the score.
Then Iceland’s defense kicked in, keeping almost the entire team behind the ball and swarming the Argentina attackers, especially Lionel Messi.
Argentina seemed to have its breakthrough in the second half when Aguero went down after a collision and earned a penalty. But Messi’s shot was saved by Hannes Halldorsson, who had a strong game.
Iceland showed no signs of tiring and kept up the relentless defensive pressure. Seldom threatening to take the lead itself, Iceland also shut down Argentina’s efforts to win the game.
A final free kick by Messi in the 95th minute appropriately sailed into a wall thick with Iceland players.
Neither team was crippled by the result, but they will come out with far different memories. For Iceland, the humbling of a soccer superpower. For Argentina, a missed opportunity.