Argentina will begin their World Cup campaign at Otkrytiye Arena in Moscow on Saturday when they lock horns with the smallest nation at the tournament, Iceland.
2018 FIFA World Cup
Date: 16 June 2018
Kick-off: 21H00 HKT
Venue: Otkrytiye Arena
Referee: Szymon Marciniak
Assistants: Pawel Sokolnicki, Tomasz Listkiewicz
Fourth official: Wilmar Roldan
Fifth official: Alexander Guzman
Players to watch:
Lionel Messi has been drawing all the attention in the build-up to the tournament, but the five-time Ballon d’Or winner is not the only important player in Argentina’s ranks. Striker Sergio Aguero’s powerful finishing and defender Javier Mascherano’s experience at the back could prove crucial for the 2014 losing finalists.
Iceland’s talisman is no doubt Gylfi Sigurdsson. He only just recovered in time for the World Cup after a knee injury and will play a vital role in midfield. The 28-year-old has scored 19 goals in 57 appearances for his country.
Team form and manager quotes:
The Albiceleste are strong favourites to beat Iceland but come into the opening group game on the back of some inconsistent results in the lead-up to the tournament.
The South Americans beat Russia, Italy, and Haiti in their last five games, but suffered a 4-2 defeat against Nigeria and a humbling 6-1 defeat at the hands of Spain.
Lionel Messi and company made it to the World Cup final in 2014 but were edged out 1-0 by Germany in the final. They will no doubt be determined to go all the way to the last two again.
“We are going with great enthusiasm and much desire,” Messi told DeporTV earlier this week.
“We have been preparing very well throughout our training camp. We have great players on an individual level and we will fight as an equal to any team, even if we are not the favourites.
“I have taken part in three World Cups in three different situations because of how they were played, and in all of them I took positive things.
The great favourites will arrive very well in terms of both their team and their individual players. I think it is going to be a very even World Cup.”
Meanwhile, Iceland are at their very first World Cup finals and should have low expectations when facing one of the international giants like Argentina.
Iceland have a population of only 335,000 which is 10 times less than any other nation at the global showpiece. They famously eliminated England from the 2016 European Championship but will need another big performance to get anything from the game against Argentina.
Heimir Hallgrimsson’s charges have not won in their last four games before the World Cup. They lost against Mexico, Peru, and Norway before drawing 2-2 with Ghana.
“We didn’t change a lot,” Hallgrimsson told the press. “We still have the same philosophy. We have to be realistic about why we win football matches.
“If people still think it’s a kind of Cinderella story, and that in some way we don’t deserve it, then they underestimate us.
“So I kind of like it when people come here and ask: ‘Are you still a dentist?’ In my opinion it benefits us but I know some people among our staff who would like more respect, professionally, than they are getting.”
Argentina lost Sergio Romero and Manuel Lanzini to injuries before the tournament, but should field an impressive side with Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, and Angel di Maria expected to start.
Iceland have been boosted by the news that Sigurdsson will be available for selection. They should also start Burnley’s Johann Berg Gudmundsson in midfield.