Argentina lock horns with Iceland in Group D opener
Written by: Debajit Sarma
The Albiceleste are expected to pull through against the Nordic Titans.
Argentina will kick-start their World Cup campaign against debutants Iceland in the opening match of Group D at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on Saturday. Billed as one of the fixtures in the group stages of the competition to watch out for, this game pits the flair and flamboyance of South Americans against the grit and tenacity of the Scandanavians.
Iceland came into the reckoning on the international stage when they surpassed all odds to make it to the quarterfinals of Euro 2016, beating England on the way. They followed up the good work by finishing on top of their group in qualifying, above Croatia and Turkey, to become the smallest country ever to make it to the World Cup finals. The Nordic nation though, will face a stern test in their debut on the world stage against Lionel Messi and Co.
The Albiceleste are two-time winners and one of the most iconic teams in the history of the competition. Expectations are running high this time around too. Having faltered at the final hurdle against Germany in 2014, they would dearly want to lay their hands on the coveted prize this time around. Argentina will look for a routine victory in the first encounter before comparatively tougher games against Croatia and Nigeria.
About the teams
The Argentine squad has been a little unlucky with injuries. Sergio Romero and Manuel Lanzini of the initial 23 are both missing the World Cup. Thus, the Albiceleste will start with the 36-year-old veteran Willy Caballero in goal and Premier League winner Nicolas Otamendi leading the defence.
The Argentina side will be missing Sergio Romero between the sticks
One of Albiceleste’s heroes of the 2014 World Cup, Javier Mascherano will become the country’s most capped player when he takes the field on Saturday and he will start at the base of midfield. Ever Banega and young Giovani Lo Celso will complete the midfield three.
Manager Jorge Sampaoli is going to have a dilemma in finalizing his front three. But, Lionel Messi, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain will likely surely start and will look to blow the opponents out off the park. The likes of Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero will have to be content with a place on the bench, at least initially.
Watch Heimir Hallgrimson talk in the pre-match press conference
Coach Heimir Hallgrimson opts for the 4-5-1 formation against stronger teams. Hannes Halldorsson is the obvious first-choice between the sticks. In front of him, Kari Arnason and Ragnar Sigurdsson wil be the centre-back pairing. Inspirational captain Aron Gunnarsson and confident passer Emil Hallfredsson will be the personnel in midfield and star man Gylfi Sigurdsson will be deployed in a free role in front of them.
Burnley’s skilful winger Johan Berg Gudmundsson will operate on the flanks and Reading’s Dadi Bodvarsson will be the lone lone striker upfront.
The Otkritie Arena named the Spartak Stadium for the World Cup is home to Russia’s most successful club team, Spartak Moscow. One of the two World Cup venues in the Russian capital, it has a capacity of 45,000. The stadium will play host to four group stage games and a Round of 16 clash.
Caballero, Mercado, Otamendi, Fazio, Tagliafico, Mascherano, Banega, Lo Celso, Messi, Higuain, Dybala
Halldorsson, Saevarsson, Sigurdsson, Arnason, Magnusson, Gudmundsson, Gunnarsson, Hallfredsson, Bjarnasson, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Bodvarsson
What to Expect
One of the tournament favourites, Argentina will be expected to put this game to bed quite easily. They have one of the most fearsome attacks in the world that might prove too hot for the debutants to handle. Much will be expected of the team’s talisman and arguably the world’s best player Lionel Messi, who will look to light up the competition with his magic.
But, that won't be easy against one of the best-organised and most disciplined teams in the world. Buoyed by their incredible travelling support and unshackled by the feeling of having nothing to lose, Iceland may even spring a surprise. They will look to capitalize against a leaky defence and a goalkeeper who didn’t play much club football last season.
Khel Now Predicts
Argentina 3-1 Iceland
Published: Sat Jun 16, 2018 12:37 PM IST