Who? Argentina - Iceland
Where? Otkritie Arena, Moscow
When? June 16, 15:00 (CET local time)
Argentina (Yossi Medina)
Argentina loves to play against debutants. In 1998 they played in an all-debutants group with Jamaica, Japan and Croatia, and they played also against Ivory Coast in 2006 and Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2014. Usually, their experience was enough to give them advantage against these teams.
In 2018, it's not so sure that Argentina is prepared well for the World Cup. They made only one warm-up game against Haiti and their second scheduled match against Israel, another weaker team, has been canceled after a large geo-political controversy. With such a poor preparation, Argentina arrived to Russia and hope to make it through.
Argentina suffered also injuries to two key players during the last weeks. The goalkeeper Sergio Romero had a knee injury and left the team with three goalkeepers that played a combined number of just 9 international caps. It seems that Jorge Sampaoli will choose Willy Caballero, who had a lot of experience in his club career but is a part of a World Cup squad for the first time in his career.
The second missing player is Manuel Lanzini. West Ham United midfielder left over after a knee ligament injury. The midfield has some great players such as Ángel Di María and Javier Mascherano but they will need to work hard to stable their line.
With all these problems, a whole nation will cheer for their Albiceleste heroes, hoping to see them lifting a trophy for the first time since 1993.
Iceland (Eden Roitfarb)
Welcome back Iceland! The Nordic Cinderella are back for their first ever World Cup, and by doing so they became the smallest ever nation to qualify with a population of only 350,000 people.
Yet, it’s those colorful characters that helped Iceland capture the hearts of the neutral fan in Euro 2016. Whether it was the powerful Viking Thunderclap performed together by the players & fans and that has been since adopted by many teams, or whether because of commentator Guðmundur Benediktsson who famously screamed out his voice in games vs Austria and England (while even taking a jab against the Brits for Brexit), Iceland became the public’s number one darling that summer.
A new exciting prospect in Icelandic football is PSV Eindhoven’s Albert Guðmundsson, who is part of a family with rich footballing history. Albert scored a hattrick in a friendly vs Indonesia in January and became the fourth member of his family to score for the national team. His great-grandfather, who held the same name, played for Arsenal and AC Milan in the 1940’s and was later Minister of Finance. And his father? Well, that’s no other than memorable commentator Guðmundur Benediktsson who once was considered a big talent and played for the national team as well. Talk about a small world!
Perhaps it is time for Iceland to make even bigger headlines, as they start with the biggest challenge possible – a date with Argentina and Lionel Messi in Moscow. It would be interesting to see which Iceland we would see: The side that dominated a tough World Cup qualifying group, or the one that is struggling since and hasn’t won a single preparation friendly. One thing is definite, they would give it all and make life difficult for the best player in the world and his crew.