Lionel Messi (front) of Argentina fails to score a penalty kick during the second half of a World Cup group stage match against Iceland at Spartak Stadium in Moscow on June 16, 2018. -⸺ Kyodo Photo
Viet Nam News
MOSCOW — Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli refused to blame Lionel Messi for a "frustrating" draw with World Cup debutants Iceland on Saturday 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 1-1 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.
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 retain 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. — AFP