Argentina and Iceland began their 2018 World Cup campaign with a 1-1 draw in Moscow on Saturday afternoon.
The 2014 finalists were seen by many as Group D favourites – or even potential winners of the competition – but they were held to a stalemate by a dogged Icelandic side that are determined to make an impression at this tournament after their Euro 2016 heroics.
So what did we learn from a result that might just have blown the group wide open?
Argentina are woefully one-dimensional
The worry before this competition was that Argentina would rely too much on Messi. Despite possessing attacking talents such as Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala, the South Americans struggled in qualifying without him – but the hope was that they would have rectified that mistake by now.
Not so, as it turned out, and by looking for Messi at every opportunity they sorely limited themselves in attack and suffered as a result. Iceland were able to shut him out, and by doing so, cut off Argentina’s main avenue in attack. Iceland were far too comfortable in defence than an attack such as Argentina’s should have allowed them to be.
The Barcelona frontman can’t do it by himself – and with such a strong attacking supporting cast, he shouldn’t be expected to.
Their lack of urgency is a worry
Even in the dying stages, Argentina didn’t look overly threatening, The lack of urgency in trying to get the ball into the Icelandic box should frighten them, as it doesn’t bode well for them going forward. It was as if the reliance and Messi had left them devoid of ideas. It was slow, it was ponderous, and it won’t have gone unnoticed with either Nigeria or Croatia.
Sampaoli has a big job on his hands in trying to give the rest of the team confidence and instil a bit of drive into proceedings.
Their defence is a shambles
If ever there was a team that could be described as ‘top-heavy,’ it is Argentina. No sooner had Sergio Aguero put the ball in the Icelandic net, then Willy Caballero was picking it out of his own.
The Chelsea goalkeeper wasn’t the only offender, however, as Marcos Rojo and Nicolas Tagliafico on the left side of the defence looked decidedly shaky. Nicolas Otamendi and Eduardo Salvio on the other side looked a bit better, but the latter’s use at right-back should be called into question.
The goal was an extremely sloppy one to give away, and but for a bit of Icelandic wastefulness it could have been worse. Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia in central midfield may have to be deployed in deeper roles to protect the defence from here on out.
Iceland are here to make a big impression
This Iceland side probably deserves far more respect than it has been getting. It’s a wonderful story, granted, but here we have a team that made the last eight of the European Championships two years ago, and finished at the top of a qualifying group that also contained Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey. To that end, the group’s ‘underdogs’ would always have fancied their chances of getting a result here.
Indeed, they had some decent chances to win the match too. Birkir Bjarnasson dragged wide from a decent position in the first half, while Gylfi Sigurdsson looked lively throughout and had a decent chance just before half time.
This result will give Heimir Hallgrimsson and his men confidence going forward, and they will now see no reason why they can’t get positive results against Croatia and Nigeria and possibly even win this group.
Group D is now wide open
Pick a winner from this group now. This match was, fairly or otherwise, seen by many as the likely winners versus fourth place and it has ended in a draw. Depending on the result of Nigeria and Croatia on Saturday evening, all four teams could make a strong argument for being considered favourites to get out of this pool.
It’s certainly a lot less cut and dried than it was 24 hours ago, and as of ,now there is no guarantee that Messi and co will still be even in the compeition when the knockout stage rolls around.