Preview: The biggest game in Iceland's short footballing history

Amol Gokhale
Friday, 15 June 2018

Lionel Messi’s Argentina and Co. take on World Cup debutants Iceland in the group of death

Moscow:

Name: Heimir Hallgrimsson 

Profession: Dentist

Job: Head coach, Iceland National Football team

On Friday, ahead of the biggest game in the history of Iceland football, Hallgrimsson was having casual talk with a couple of journalists from his country. At 1:15 local time, he walked into the packed press conference room at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow and before the floor opened for questions, he made a few things clear, so that media personnel do not ask repetitive questions—All my players are fit and fine and are available for selection; It is the biggest game in the history of Iceland; And I am still a dentist.

The 51-year-old Iceland manager, who took full charge of the team after their successful UEFA Euro 2016 campaign, where they famously beat England 2-1, has a different way of doing things than the rest.

He has a tradition of going to a local pub before every home game to meet the fans and discuss tactics with them, as in the initial years, Iceland struggled to get the fans to the stadiums.

When asked about at which pub one can find him at before his team takes on Argentina, he elaborated the reasons why he could do it.

"It is just one (more) thing we do different from others, because of the population. We know each other more closely than other coaches or players know their fans. That is this closeness and the trust between the players and the coaching staff and fans makes it possible to go to the pub and meet the fans before the game," he said.

"I understand that for other nations this is strange and probably could not happen, but this shows the unity between the fans and the team and the respect we get from them. This is just one thing we use to maximise our potential in being few," he said about the fans, who are renowned all over the world for their 'manner of supporting their team - 'Viking Thunder Claps.'

"The game is too early, I won't go to a pub before the game tomorrow," Hallgrimsson added with a smile.

No Miracle
Iceland, who will play against none other than Lionel Messi's Argentina has made steady progress over the years. They first qualified for the Euro 2016 for the first time two years back and the adrenaline of that took them till the quarter-finals.

Now, they make their debut on the biggest stage with some style as they topped their group with 22 points from 10 games and the coach Hallgrimsson sees that as no miracle.

"It's not a miracle, we have come so far and we qualified first, so we deserve to be here. It's a good work from FA, players and coaching staff. We play according to our strengths and weakness. We play different brand of football, but we've learnt a lot from the Euro," he expressed.

Messi and Co.
Iceland could not have dreamt of anything better than playing their first World Cup game against Argentina. The opponent needs no introduction, they are one of the institutions of the football and have Lionel Messi captaining their side.

Argentina, who had to solely depend on Messi's brilliance to get on the plane to Russia had to deal with two crucial injury blows, losing their first choice keeper Sergio Romero and midfielder Manuel Lanzini.

In Messi, Sergio Agüero, Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain and Ángel Di Maria they have the most fearsome attacks in the competition. They can outscore any opponent on their sheer individual quality but coach Jorge Sampaoli would be hoping that his defence holds firm, as Iceland, a set piece specialist side can look to exploit Argentina players' small stature.

As Iceland gaffer pointed out, nobody has a magic trick to stop Messi from what he does, his side won't man-mark him as it would be unfair but collectively will do their best to stop him. He also warned that they cannot solely focus on Messi because of other players in the Argentine squad can punish them if given the opportunity.

"Iceland can have the best game of their lives but can still lose to Argentina, that's the reality of it," said the man who can take off teeth if needed. Hallgrimsson signed off.

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