Iceland’s Alfred Finnbogason (left) and Argentina’s Nicolas Otamendi fight for the ball during the group D match at the World Cup on June 16, 2018, in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Iceland’s Alfred Finnbogason (left) and Argentina’s Nicolas Otamendi fight for the ball during the group D match at the World Cup on June 16, 2018, in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Iceland’s World Cup dream built on being nightmare foe

The tournament’s smallest nation stuns Argentina and star Lionel Messi with a 1-1 draw.

Associated Press

MOSCOW — The World Cup rookies from the tournament’s smallest nation are suddenly legitimate contenders for the knockout stage.

Two years after reaching the quarterfinals at the European Championship, Iceland earned its first point in its first World Cup match, holding two-time champion Argentina to a surprising 1-1 draw on Saturday.

The round of 16 could be beckoning.

“Ah, you’re not going to get me to say that when we play in a group with Nigeria, Croatia and Argentina,” said Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson, who saved a penalty from Lionel Messi. “You also saw the game tonight. They had a lot of possession. They had more shots than us.”

Spoken like a veteran.

They may not be cocky, but after passing one of their first competitive tests against a top-ranked side from outside Europe, the Icelanders aren’t short on confidence, either. They know no one wants to play them.

“This is a typical game for us: We defend well, we get the opponent impatient and then, when we attack, we are fast and we have quality,” Halldorsson said. “So we are a nightmare to play against and we can beat anybody when we have our day.”

You’re not likely to get an argument from Messi, who will be dogged by visions of Halldorsson blocking the penalty that could have given Argentina all three points.

Besides its run to the quarterfinals of Euro 2016, which included a win over England, Iceland also won its World Cup qualifying group. The team has earned its reputation as an organized, stout defending side that’s dangerous on set pieces.

“We have a clear identity and everybody is on board how we should play,” Iceland coach Heimer Hallgrimsson said.

And they don’t just dig into the trenches, either. Alfred Finnbogason, who scored Iceland’s lone goal on Saturday, noted that the team has moved from a traditional 4-4-2 lineup to having five midfielders, which bolsters their marauding ranks on the counterattack.

“We are more unpredictable now, and hopefully we’ll show that in the competition,” he said.

Confident though they are, the Icelanders don’t need to be reminded that they are from the smallest country every to qualify for the World Cup.

“Deep down, we know that we come from Iceland. And we are very outnumbered if you look at population numbers,” Halldorsson said. “So there’s always this thought that, maybe we are tiny Iceland and maybe they are going to crush us. So maybe that’s also what keeps us on our toes, that we are always a bit worried that we might get smacked.”

In the meantime, the team and its Viking-helmeted fans will continue to make the most of their first time on soccer’s biggest stage.

“When you go to the World Cup as a goalkeeper, you have certain dream scenarios. There are some things you hope or wish for, and saving a penalty from Messi in the first game is definitely one of them,” Halldorsson said. “When the penalty was given, I felt, ‘OK, this is going to be my moment.’”

The whole team — maybe the whole country, which marks its independence day on Sunday — is probably feeling the same way.

Talk to us

More in Sports

Kenai Sinaphet takes the hand off from head coach, Dalton Schwetz, during practice Wednesday afternoon at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Marysville, Washington on August 17, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
‘Fresh start’ for Marysville Pilchuck under new coach Schwetz

The Tomahawks begin practice without longtime coach Brandon Carson, who stepped down following last year’s playoff run.

Stanwood's Ryder Bumgarner rushes with yardage with Arlington's Trenton Lamie, left, closing in the third quarter Friday night at Stanwood High School on September 24, 2021.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Prep football: 5 storylines to watch this season

A look at some intriguing questions as local high school football practices get underway.

The Central Welding Supply 125, which serves as the season finale at Evergreen Speedway, will attempt to run on Saturday, after being bumped postponed last weekend due to weather.
Community roundup: ARCA West comes to Evergreen Speedway

Plus, a host of local collegians earn preseason honors, Jake Luton gets released by the Jaguars and more.

AquaSox's manager, Louis Boyd, Funko Field at Everett Memorial Stadium in Everett on July 28, 2019. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
AquaSox fall to Canadians in slugfest

Everett loses 12-8 as the two teams combine for 30 hits.

Seattle Mariners' Cal Raleigh celebrates with teammates after hitting a solo home run against the Los Angeles Angels during the fifth inning of a baseball game in Anaheim, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
Raleigh homers twice, Mariners top Angels to complete sweep

Seattle hits four total home runs in an 11-7 win over Los Angeles.

Seattle Storm head coach Noelle Quinn directs her team during the first half of a WNBA basketball game against the Las Vegas Aces, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Sam Morris)
Can 2nd-year coach Quinn lead Storm to 5th WNBA title?

Seattle’s postseason gets underway at home against Washington on Thursday night.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Drew Lock (2) walks the sideline during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)
Carroll laments lost chance for Lock, Seahawks due to COVID

The QB will miss an opportunity to start Thursday’s preseason game after getting the virus for the second time.

People explore Everett Memorial Stadium’s new turf and track during an open house event Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Everett Memorial Stadium reopens with new-look field, track

The facility, which originally opened in 1947, underwent renovations this summer.

Angel of the Winds Arena stands ready and waiting Friday afternoon for Kraken fans to arrive for the preseason game against the Edmondton Oilers. (Jake Goldstein-Street / The Herald)
Kraken’s new AHL affiliate set to play game in Everett

The Coachella Valley Firebirds take the ice at Angel of the Winds Arena on Oct. 28.

Most Read