Mon | Jul 16, 2018

Mess up! - Tiny Iceland stop Messi and Argentina while Jamaicans ready for Brazil

Published:Sunday | June 17, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Argentina's Lionel Messi covers his face during the group D match between Argentina and Iceland at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Spartak Stadium in Moscow, Russia, Saturday.
Argentina's Lionel Messi reacts after draw 1-1 in the group D match between Argentina and Iceland at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Spartak Stadium in Moscow, Russia, yesterday.
Brazil's Neymar (left) and Thiago Silva talk to other players during Brazil's official training on the eve of the group E match against Switzerland yesterday.
The agony of a draw for this Argentina fan.
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MOSCOW (AP):

When the final whistle blew, Lionel Messi angrily kicked away the ball like it was poison and tore off his captain's armband as though it was cursed.

A superstar of football knocked off his pedestal at the World Cup.

By a bunch of guys from Iceland. Iceland. Population 350,000.

Back on the volcanic, wind-swept island bashed by Arctic seas, in winters to come when storms are blowing and the sun is on strike, Icelanders will draw warmth from the memory of the 1-1 draw in this, their first-ever World Cup match. They and the team celebrated the result like a victory.

And rightfully so.

By neutralising two-time World Cup winner Argentina, who had Messi on the field, a cigar-puffing Diego Maradona watching from the VIP seats and the pope on its side, Iceland blazed a trail for small countries and territories everywhere.

Luxembourg, Malta, Hong Kong, Scotland and the like, are you paying attention? Because this was no fluke. It was Iceland's reward for two decades of thought, investment and ambition lavished on football, so all Icelandic boys and girls who want to play now have an abundance of pitches and qualified coaches.

Although Iceland has a pool of just 100 or so full-time professionals to draw from, its team is only getting better and growing in stature, no longer just a cute story of overachievement but a bona fide outfit to be reckoned with.

First was Cristiano Ronaldo, sulky and frustrated after Iceland restricted his Portugal to a 1-1 draw at the European Championships in 2016.

And now Messi, the latest star extinguished by a blanket of sturdy Icelandic defending, physicality, organisation, teamwork and self-sacrifice.

He had a penalty saved. He fired shots wide. Iceland's players stuck to him like chewing gum on a shoe. When two or three of them followed his runs, others stepped into the gaps he opened in Iceland's defence, plugging them.

 

Rebooted Brazil seeks redemption against gritty Switzerland

 

Brazil has spent four years trying to atone for its last World Cup match, the calamitous 7-1 defeat as hosts by Germany.

Popular coach Tite purged players, eased dependence on Neymar, and rebuilt a team that concedes few goals and blazed through qualification.

Those changes will be tested today, when the Selecao start their campaign for a sixth World Cup title at the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don against Switzerland.

Restoring much of its pride, Brazil was the first team to qualify for this World Cup, 17 games unbeaten and with a 3-0 victory over Argentina at the stadium where they'd sustained the infamous semi-final loss to Germany.

Brazil's other Group E opponents, Serbia and Costa Rica, play in Samara today.