Lionel Messi’s 2018 World Cup campaign — and that of Argentina — got off to a rough start on Saturday, as the five-time Ballon d’Or winner had his would-be game-winning penalty kick saved and the two-time world champions (1978, 1986) were held to a 1-1 draw with Iceland, the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup (population: 334,000).
Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli credited the Icelanders for executing a simple, yet effective, defensive gameplan. Messi, however, wasn’t so diplomatic in expressing his frustrations. “They did not want to play,” he said after the game, while also admitting that the missed spot kick “hurts” and the emotions will have to pass quickly with a massive clash with Group D-leading Croatia looming next Thursday — quotes from the BBC:
“[The penalty kick] would have changed the script. It was the advantage.
“Obviously it hurts me to have missed the penalty. They would have opened a little more and we could have found more spaces.
“We have the bitterness of not being able to take the three points that we deserved. To start with winning is always important, now we have to think about Croatia.
“We will try to pass this quickly.”
The instant, knee-jerk reaction following Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick performance is that the Real Madrid star has already one-upped his Barcelona nemesis after just one game in Russia, but let us not forget that Messi dragged a subpar side (by Argentina’s standards) to three straight finals (2014 World Cup; 2015 and 2016 Copa America). Ronaldo, of course, led Portugal to 2016 European Championship glory during the same period.
An idea: they’re both all-time, transcendental talents, so let’s enjoy them both without taking away from one to give to the other.