Iceland's first experience of a World Cup comes against an all-time great perhaps facing his last chance to win one as they take on Argentina and Lionel Messi in their Group D opener.
Many believe Barcelona superstar Messi needs to win the World Cup to rubber stamp his status as the best player in the history of the game.
He came agonisingly close in the 2014 World Cup, where he won player of the tournament but was unable to prevent Argentina from losing 1-0 to Germany in extra time in the final.
With goalkeeper Sergio Romero and forward Manuel Lanzini missing the competition through injury, the strain on the 30-year-old Messi's shoulders has arguably increased even further.
Messi is not the only worldwide sensation set to be on show in Saturday's clash at Spartak Stadium in Moscow, Iceland having captured the hearts and minds of football fans around the globe during their improbable run to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016.
Iceland's remarkable major tournament debut popularised the 'Viking clap' and coach Heimir Hallgrimsson, now in sole charge having overseen their European Championship run alongside Lars Largerback, is confident they can repeat those heroics on the world stage.
Slovakia were the last debutants to qualify and reach the knockout stages in 2010, and Hallgrimsson sees a path to Iceland doing the same despite being drawn in a group that also contains a talented Croatia side and Nigeria.
"If people still think it's a kind of Cinderella story, and that in some way we don’t deserve it, then they underestimate us," Hallgrimsson told The Guardian.
"The group is equal and I think that's in our favour. If or when – I don't know which word to use – we get through there's not going to be any opponent much tougher than Argentina, Nigeria or Croatia.
"It gives you the feeling that, if we qualify for the last 16, we shouldn't fear anyone."
- Only Bolivia (18) scored fewer goals than Argentina (19) in the CONMEBOL qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup.
- Iceland have qualified for their first World Cup and their second major tournament after Euro 2016 where they reached the quarter-finals. Slovakia were the last World Cup debutants to make it to the knockout stages of the tournament (2010).
- At 334,000 inhabitants when they qualified, Iceland are the smallest ever nation to reach the World Cup finals.
21 de junio 2018
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