Iceland's hero keeper did homework to psych out Messi
MOSCOW, Russia – Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson revealed how he worked on psyching out Argentine superstar Lionel Messi to make a penalty save that sealed a 1-1 draw with the footballing superpower.
Halldorsson was the hero when he palmed away Messi's spot kick in the 63rd minute, correctly gambling that the Barcelona talisman would shoot to his right.
The Man of the Match described the moment, which kept the score level at 1-1, as "a dream come true" but also said it was the result of painstaking research into the 5-time world player of the year.
"I did some homework because I knew this was a situation that could come up. It was a long shot but it happened," he said after the tie at Moscow's Spartak Stadium on Saturday, June 16.
"I looked at a lot of penalties from Messi and I also looked at how I've been behaving during the last couple of penalties.
"I tried to get in their minds, so they'd be thinking about me. I had a good feeling he'd go this way today."
Like a win
Halldorsson said the draw felt like a win for Iceland, who are making their first World Cup appearance but famously eliminated England at Euro 2016 to reach the quarter-finals.
Halldorsson said the Argentina result was similar to Iceland's draw with Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal at those championships because it provided a springboard to make it to the knockout phase.
"We were playing against one of the best teams in the world who had the best player in the world," he said.
"It's especially important for us because it helped us get a point, which is important for us to reach our goal to get out of the group."
Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli, though, refused to blame Messi for a "frustrating" draw with the World Cup debutants after he missed a penalty, backing his star man to deliver.
Messi blew a gilt-edged opportunity to seal victory when he missed a second-half penalty, with the Group D match ending in a draw after Iceland's Alfred Finnbogason cancelled out Sergio Aguero's opening goal.
It was a major embarrassment for the two-time world champions and raises questions about their ability to claim football's biggest prize for the first time since 1986.
As a cigar-puffing Diego Maradona looked on at Moscow's Spartak Stadium, Messi also failed to respond to his rival Cristiano Ronaldo's hat-trick for Portugal against Spain a day earlier.
Messi is yet to win a major international tournament and time is running out with his 31st birthday looming.
But Sampaoli said Argentina would regroup, beginning with their next match against Croatia in Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday, and move on from the Iceland disappointment.
"There's a certain amount of frustration when you come to win a game and don't get there," he said. "We were enthusiastic but we played against a structured team."
He refused to single out Messi for his penalty miss.
"Evaluating Leo's performance is very difficult because they played almost the whole game in their own half," he said. "I know he's committed to helping us get into the next round."
While the result was not on the scale of that Iceland produced to eliminate England at Euro 2016, it was a major boost for the tiny nation, who retains hopes of advancing from a group that also includes Nigeria and Croatia.
The island nation of 330,000 is the smallest country ever to qualify for the finals but emphatically showed they can mix it with the heavyweights of the game.
Iceland's next opponents are Nigeria in Volgograd on Friday.
In front of a raucous crowd at the 45,000-capacity venue, Iceland launched into some early physical challenges and rattled Argentina.
They hit on the counter and gave the South Americans a scare when Bjorn Sigurdarson pounced on a loose ball only to rifle his shot just wide of the post.
Aguero settled Argentine nerves in the 19th minute when he latched onto Marcos Rojo's pass in the box, turned and hammered home with his left foot.
True to form, Iceland fought back and Finnbogason netted the equalizer 4 minutes later, pouncing after Argentine keeper Willy Caballero parried Gylfi Sigurdsson's shot for a classic poacher's goal.
Argentina continued to press but Messi was subdued in the face of the muscular Icelandic defense and the teams went into the break on even terms.
The Barcelona man looked furious as he led his team out for the second half but the Argentines still struggled to make the most of their territorial domination.
They appeared to have secured a breakthrough when Polish referee Szymon Marciniak pointed to the spot after Hordur Magnusson brought down Maximiliano Meza in the 63rd minute.
Messi stepped up for the kick but Halldorsson guessed correctly and palmed away the Argentine skipper's side-footed effort.
His free-kick in the final moments of the game was deflected off the Iceland wall and the Barcelona talisman trudged off the pitch dejected. – Rappler.com
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