Argentina scraped through qualification, on the back of sheer brilliance from Lionel Messi.

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Argentina World Cup Fixtures, Squad, Group, Guide

Argentina vs Iceland (16th June) Match Report

Lionel Messi will once again have the weight of a nation on his shoulders during this World Cup. How far can he take them? Match preview here.

Argentina Starting XI: 23 Willy Caballero, 3 Nicolas Tagliafico, 5 Lucas Biglia (7 Ever Banega 54), 13 Maximiliano Meza (9 Gonzalo Higuain 84), 14 Javier Mascherano, 10 Lionel Messi, 11 Angel Di Maria (22 Cristian Pavon 75), 16 Marcos Rojo, 17 Nicolas Otamendi, 18 Eduardo Salvio, 19 Sergio Aguero

Iceland Starting XI: 1 Hannes Halldorsson, 2 Birkir Saevarsson, 6 Ragnar Sigurdsson, 7 Johann Gudmundsson (19 Rurik Gislason 64), 8 Birkir Bjarnason, 10 Gylfi Sigurdsson, 11 Alfred Finnbogason (9 Bjorn Sigurdarson 89), 17 Aaron Gunnarsson (23 Ari Skulason 76), 14 Karl Arnason, 18 Hordor Magnusson, 20 Emil Hallfredsson

Moscow Spartak 

Argentina 1 Iceland 1

Scorers:

Argentina: Aguero 19

Iceland: Finnbogason 23

Match overview

Argentina’s opening game ended in frustration after being held by a disciplined Iceland side playing their first ever World Cup match. Lionel Messi was denied the winner by Iceland keeper Hannes Halldorsson, who saved a second-half penalty and was the anchor of an Iceland defence that resisted a wave of Argentina attacks.

Man of the match

Iceland’s keeper Hannes Halldorsson saved a Lionel Messi penalty and kept his team in the game when saving from from Cristian Pavon late in the game.

Matter of fact

Argentina’s goal was Sergio Aguero’s first World Cup goal.

Talking point

The clash of styles was highlighted by the pass accuracyy stats. Argentina completed 92 per cent of their passes, compared to only 67 per cent for Iceland. Argentina also enjoyed the vast majority of possession (72 per cent) but Lionel Messi frequently found himself crowded out by two or three Iceland defenders.  

Stats

Argentina/Iceland

Possession (%): 72/28

Goal attempts: 26/9

Attempts on target: 9/5

Corners: 10/2

Fouls: 10/15

Pass accuracy (%): 92/67

Distance covered (km): 101/105

Argentina World Cup Guide

Shockingly, Argentina only just qualified for the 2018 World Cup. From the opening 2-0 defeat at home to Ecuador, to the 3-1 away win against the same opponents in their final game, it was drama all the way in a fraught qualifying campaign as Argentina flirted dangerously with missing out on a first World Cup since 1970. Three coaches were used, and just 19 goals scored in 18 rounds.

Key Moments in Qualifying 

Oct 2015
With Lionel Messi absent through injury, Argentina’s lack of attacking guile is cruelly exposed as they lose 2-0 at home to Ecuador.
Jun 2016
After a Copa Centenario Final loss to Chile, Messi announces his retirement from international football. Thankfully for the national team, he quickly has a rethink and says he’ll carry on playing.
Mar 2017
Messi is accused of abusing a linesman during the 1-0 win over Chile and banned for four games. He misses the defeat in Bolivia, but then FIFA relent and he is free to play again.
Oct 2017
In a must-win game away to Ecuador, Argentina go a goal down after 41 seconds but Messi rescues them with a magnificent hat-trick.

Argentina World Cup Group

In Group D, Argentina are joined by Iceland, Nigeria, and a tough Croatia side with Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic at the helm.

Argentina World Cup Friendlies

It has been a mixed bag for Argentina coming up to the tournament. First they beat Italy 2-0 but got smashed by Spain 6-1. A 4-0 victory against Haiti followed, and their final game against Israel was cancelled after threats of violence.

  • 23rd March – Italy (won 2-0)
  • 27th March – Spain (lost 6-1)
  • 29th May – Haiti (won 4-0)
  • 9th June – Israel (cancelled after threats of violence)

Argentina World Cup Fixtures

Argentina will play their first group game on the 16th of June against Iceland. On the 21st they will play their toughest group game, against the Croatians, and end their group stage on the 26th against Nigeria.

Related: Sergio Aguero November 2007

The Coach 

Jorge Sampaoli, age 57 (13.03.60)
The team’s third coach of the qualifying campaign – following on from Gerardo Martino and Edgardo Bauza – he took charge for the final four games. His intense, high press, attacking game was a great success with Chile, and briefly Sevilla, but does he have the players to make it work with Argentina?

Final Four: Sampaoli took control of Argentina for the final four games of the qualifying campaign (Getty Images)

The Players
Stars
In the eight games he missed, Argentina accumulated just seven points. In the 10 in which he played, they managed 21. Seldom has a team been so dependent on one player as Argentina are on Lionel Messi.
Stalwarts
Angel Di Maria was one of only two players to start in all 18 South American rounds. Used in a variety of different positions, he had an uneven campaign, but free to float in the last round he combined well with Messi. Although not always convincing, Nicolas Otamendi will hope to take his improved club form with Manchester City into the national team.
Missing
Centre-back Martin Demichelis retired during the campaign and defensive resources were further depleted by the knee injury to Ramiro Funes Mori. Dario Benedetto is set to miss out after suffering knee ligament damage in November.
Debuts
Although both have plenty of potential, neither Paulo Dybala nor Mauro Icardi has yet made an impression playing for the national side.

Argentina World Cup Squad

Final World Cup Squad – 

GOALKEEPERS: Willy Caballero (Chelsea), Franco Armani (River Plate), Nahuel Guzman (Tigres).

DEFENDERS: Gabriel Mercado (Sevilla), Federico Fazio (Roma), Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City), Marcos Rojo (Manchester United), Nicolas Taglafico (Ajax), Javier Mascherano (Hebei Fortune), Marcos Acuna (Sporting Lisbon), Cristian Ansaldi (Torino).

MIDFIELDERS: Ever Banega (Sevilla), Lucas Biglia (AC Milan), Angel Di María, Giovani Lo Celso (both Paris St-Germain), Enzo Perez (River Plate), Cristian Pavon (Boca Juniors), Maximiliano Meza (Independiente), Eduardo Salvio (Benfica).

FORWARDS: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala (both Juventus), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City).

Probable Starting XI

Willy Caballero, Nicolas Tagliafico, Nicolas Otamendi, Federico Fazio, Gabriel Mercado, Giovani Lo Celso, Lucas Biglia, Paulo Dybala, Angel Di Maria, Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero.

Argentina World Cup Injuries

Fernando Gago (knee)

Sergio Romero (knee)

Manuel Lanzini will miss the World Cup after tearing his ACL in training (knee)

Class: Dybala has improved massively for Juventus but is yet to make an impact at international level (Getty Images)

The Unanswered Questions

Do they have the players to defend in the way Jorge Sampaoli wants?
There appears to be a lack of defensive pace to push up and play a high line. Without good attacking full-backs, Sampaoli has been using wingers instead – but the problems with such a plan were clear in the recent 4-2 loss to Nigeria.

Improved: Otamendi has improved massively at Manchester City but can he translate that onto the international stage? (Getty Images)

How can they reduce their dependence on Lionel Messi?
Argentina cannot simply give the ball to their number 10 and pray for him to do something special. Sampaoli must build a side that gives Messi a structure to work in, and which gives the coach options if their star man is injured or off form.

Who is the centre-forward?
During qualification, Sampaoli rejected Gonzalo Higuain, went with Mauro Icardi, then dropped him in favour of Dario Benedetto. Interestingly, Sergio Aguero only started two games alongside Messi – and they won both.

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