Argentina vs Iceland: 5 things to look forward to

Iceland will be the first to face Argentina's fearsome attack on Saturday. But can they hold off Messi and Co.?


REUTERS/Albert Gea

Group D promises to be one of the closest at the World Cup in Russia. Conceivably, all four of the teams could go through and no match is clear-cut. 

With Nigeria beating Argentina 4-2 as recently as November last year, there is no reason to doubt that the African side – or anyone else – can’t go through.

At present, Iceland are enjoying the best moment in their footballing history. The island nation were the surprise package two years ago at Euro 2016 and now they’ll be looking to cause a stir the world stage at their first ever World Cup.

Argentina are looking to go one step further than they did four years ago, losing in the final against Germany. This could be Lionel Messi’s last World Cup and so the motivation to win is as high as ever.

Here are five things to look forward to as Argentina face Iceland.

  1. 1 Argentina's attack


    REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

    Just having Lionel Messi in the ranks means that a side’s firepower is world class. Now add Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Paulo Dybala to the mix and you have Argentina’s forward options. 

    Jorge Sampaoli is spoilt for choice, to put it lightly, and faces a tough decision in who to deploy and how to shape his attack. 

    Messi is understandably among the favourites to win the Golden Boot at the tournament, but the quality around him means that any of his compatriots could take home the prize. 

    At times in qualifying, Messi looked like a one-man band, having to put chances on a plate for his teammates to score. If the attackers can reproduce their club form of this season, though, it’s hard to argue against them having the most potent attack in the tournament.

  2. 2 The counter-attack


    REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

    Naturally, with Argentina’s attack, most sides will look to start the match with some apprehension. Iceland will do no different and hope to frustrate Jorge Sampaoli’s team before catching them out on the break.

    Gylfi Sigurdsson scored a memorable counter-attacking goal for Everton against Liverpool this season in the FA Cup, arriving late in the final third to finish off the move. He will look to do the same against Argentina.

    Much of this is up to how Argentina begin the match. If they can unsettle the Icelandic defence early and grab a goal within the first half an hour, it is hard to see Iceland coming back into the game. 

    But if they get frustrated, as they often did in qualifying, Argentina will become vulnerable.

  3. 3 Argentina's vulnerability


    REUTERS/Albert Gea

    As star-studded and impressive as their attack is, Argentina’s defensive unit is not. 

    It was not strong initially but the loss of veteran goalkeeper Sergio Romero only amplifies their weakness. The three goalkeepers now in the squad have a combined total of 12 caps, and the other sides in Group D might fancy their chances. 

    Across their back four, Nicolas Otamendi is the stand-out player and even he was considered a Premier League flop 12 months ago. In the campaign just gone, he has improved greatly but his colleagues for Argentina are not exactly world beaters.

    Iceland scored in every one of their games at Euro 2016 and only failed to bag once in their ten qualification games for Russia. They will be quietly confident of scoring at least one against the uninspiring South American defence. 

  4. 4 Gudmundsson vs Tagliafico


    REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

    Iceland’s right wing could be the key to this match. 

    Johann Berg Gudmundsson is coming off the back of arguably the best season of his career as he helped Burnley qualify for the Europa League.

    He will be up against Nicolas Tagliafico. The 25-year-old plies his trade in the Eredivisie with Ajax currently and has only a handful of caps. 

    Argentina’s dearth of quality at fullback means that Tagliafico has been instantly promoted to first choice left-back following the retirement of several defenders.

    Gudmundsson, on the contrary, has over 60 caps and is an experienced player at this level, having competed in the European Championship in France. A hard-working right midfielder, Gudmundsson will provide defensive cover when needed. 

    He will also look to attack and put in crosses for Iceland’s strikers to nod home. Tagliafico will need to remain disciplined and let his teammates do the work going forward rather than risk Gudmundsson getting in behind.

  5. 5 The return of Iceland's support


    REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

    Who can forget the iconic clap, made famous by the Iceland national team two years ago? So popular was the move that numerous clubs and nations have since adopted it.

    Iceland’s team have said on numerous occasions how much motivation they draw from their support, and it won’t be any different this time around. 

    If Iceland can stay in the game against Argentina for the first 45 minutes, they will harbour real hopes of taking something from the match. 

    Reportedly, 20% of the country’s population applied for tickets for the world cup. If their fans are anything like they were in France, the Russian streets will be in for a treat.

    Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group D in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.

  1. Poll: Who will come out on top on Saturday?

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    2. Iceland
    3. Neither - it will be a draw
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Conor Ketley

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Conor is a half Irish, half English, French and Spanish speaking language graduate working and living in London.

He is a Liverpool fan and after living in the south of France for a year, has a soft spot for Olympique de Marseille.

Follow Conor @conorketley on Twitter

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