Iceland face a daunting task when they make their World Cup debut today in a Group D matchup with Argentina at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow.
The Nordic side hope to duplicate their magical run at Euro 2016, where they marched to the quarterfinals in their first-ever tournament appearance.
However, all the pressure will be on heavily favored Argentina, who have failed to claim a major international tournament victory since their win at the 1993 Copa America.
It will be the first-ever meeting between these two sides. Iceland continued their ascension into the ranks of European soccer powerhouses with a strong run through Uefa World Cup qualifying, tallying a 7-1-2 win-draw-loss record in Group I.
However, they have endured a letdown since closing out qualifying with three straight clean-sheet wins, going 2-2-4 in eight friendlies, including losses to a pair of World Cup-bound sides, Mexico and Peru.
An otherwise stingy Iceland defense has surrendered a worrisome 11 total goals in the squad’s past four outings. They blew leads in their final two pre-tournament matches, settling for a 2-2 draw with Ghana as +155 favorites on June 7 after storming to a first-half 2-0 lead, and allowing two goals after the 80th minute in a humbling 3-2 loss to rival Norway as +140 chalk on June 2.
Nothing short of domination will be acceptable for Argentina in Saturday’s contest. La Albiceleste routed Haiti 4-0 as massive -2500 chalk in their final pre-tournament friendly on May 29, but they have struggled with consistency since last summer.
Argentina have recorded consecutive wins just once during a 4-3-2 run, including stunning lopsided losses to Nigeria and Spain in recent friendly matches.
However, they are unbeaten in group-stage play in their past three World Cup appearances, compiling an impressive 8-1-0 record since Germany 2006, including four clean-sheet victories.
But with arguably the world’s best player – Lionel Messi – in their ranks, they can dare to dream. The man who has been the star for Argentina for more than a dozen years heads into what could be his final World Cup, and certainly his final World Cup where he’s in his prime.
With La Pulga turning 31 this summer, he’ll be leaving everything on the field to finally help Argentina over the hump and win a desperately-needed World Cup.
After Barcelona were knocked out of the Uefa Champions League in the quarterfinals, Argentina fans and Messi fans around the globe will hope that he has the energy necessary to make another run to the final.