Hard work and homework were the secrets to Iceland’s deserved draw against Argentina, goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson revealed after his man-of-the-match display at Moscow’s Spartak Stadium.
The 34-year-old is no stranger to watching film, as he directed the video for Iceland’s 2012 Eurovision Song Contest entry, but his recent viewing has been penalties not pop.
Now with Danish side Randers, Halldorsson capped his side’s superb defensive display against the two-time world champions by diving to his right and saving Lionel Messi’s 64th-minute spot-kick.
Speaking afterwards, Halldorsson said: “I did some homework because I knew it was a situation that could come up. OK, it’s a long shot but it happened.
“I looked at a lot of penalties by Messi and I also watched penalties I have faced so I could see how I looked to penalty-takers. I had a good feeling he would go that way.”
It was a massive moment in the game and a blow for Messi, particularly after his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo’s set-piece sorcery for Portugal against Spain on Friday.
“For me, as a goalkeeper, to play for Iceland at a World Cup, to face a penalty from the best player in the world, it was a dream come true for me to save it, especially because it helped us get a big point that will help us with our goal
of qualifying for the next round,” he added.
His coach Heimir Hallgrimsson agreed, although he would not have been able to pick a man of the match from a team performance that good.
“It was a milestone for this team,” said Hallgrimsson.
“We knew how it would be played, they would have 60 or 70 per cent of the ball, but our defence was great, the boys should get all the credit.
“We are bluntly honest about our ability – we know how we can win games. If we want a result we have to play in a special way, our way, organised, with everyone knowing their role.
“It’s more enjoyable to play this way and achieve something than to play in a different way and not achieve anything.”
Their enjoyment was obvious as they celebrated a famous result in their debut at this level. Iceland is the smallest country to reach a World Cup but there is nothing small about the character of this team or the support they get.
“I’m massively proud of our support here but I don’t know where the Argentinians bought all their tickets – we really struggled to find them and could have brought lots more fans,” said Hallgrimsson.
There were no smiles from Jorge Sampaoli, though, as the Argentina coach fielded a series of questions about his tactics and selections.
“We always come to win so that’s why there is a certain amount of frustration,” he said glumly.
“We came up against a team with a strong defensive structure, lots of people behind the ball, so it stopped us from capitalising on our possession. We tried but what can you do?”
Change things, reporters suggested, but Sampaoli was not in the mood to give anything away here, in marked contrast to the pre-game conference when he revealed his starting XI.
But he did say his team had been too slow in possession and had failed to attack down the left as planned.
This could mean the ineffective Angel Di Maria makes way for the more direct Cristian Pavon against Croatia on Thursday. But it could also mean a shake-up in the middle, where Argentina often ground to an over-complicated halt.
He also dismissed Messi’s miss as “a statistic” but the fact it was the Barca star’s fourth missed penalty in seven attempts for club and country this season makes it a rather alarming statistic.
His place is safe, of course, but the pressure on him to carry this team to glory will only grow after this setback.
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