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WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Maradona: Argentina drawing Iceland is ‘a disgrace’

AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan

It’s been a pretty trying and criticism-filled 36 hours for Lionel Messi and Argentina, and that was already true before the World Cup hero that is Diego Maradona weighed in.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

No longer are La Albiceleste simply known as the side that drew tiny Iceland — the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup — but now their efforts on Saturday have been dubbed “a disgrace” by Maradona.

It’s not so much the players whom Maradona, manager of the national team for the 2010 World Cup (quarterfinals appearance, beaten 4-0 by Germany), has gone after, but current boss Jorge Sampaoli for his lack of a proper gameplan befitting the opponent. As for Messi, who failed to convert a critical penalty kick, Maradona has absolved the Barcelona superstar of much of the blame — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s a disgrace. Not having prepared for the match knowing that Iceland are all [6-foot-3] tall.”

“I get the feeling there’s an anger at the heart of the team.”

“I don’t blame the players. I could blame the lack of work rate. But I can’t blame the players, much less Messi, who gave it all he had,” said Maradona.

“I missed five penalties on the spin and I was still Diego Armando Maradona. I don’t think that they dropped two points because Messi missed a penalty.”

Messi: Missed PK “hurts,” but Iceland “did not want to play”

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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).

[ MORE: Messi misses PK in Argentina’s disappointing draw ]

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.”

[ MORE: Halldorsson thrilled to stop Messi PK: “I did some homework” ]

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.

Sampaoli: Iceland tactics make it difficult to evaluate Messi’s game

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Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli stood by his superstar after Lionel Messi missed a penalty in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Iceland at the World Cup.

[ RECAP: Argentina 1-1 Iceland ]

“To evaluate and characterise Lionel Messi’s work is difficult because it was an uncomfortable match for him,” Sampaoli said. “Iceland played very defensively, blocking all spaces but we did everything we could to win. Leo is very committed to Argentina.”

Messi’s international game is constantly under a microscope in his home nation, which has seen him lead the club to two Copa America Finals and the 2014 World Cup Final.

The missed penalty is going to be etched in many minds, but the Argentine wizard got off and set up numerous chances including the ball sent to Sergio Aguero that earned the penalty kick. He was also marked by two, three, and four players whenever Argentina found him with the ball.

[ MORE: Halldorsson on stopping Messi PK ]

Iceland manager Heimir Hallgrimsson made no apologies for his side’s defense-first mentality.

“We are bluntly honest about our ability. We know how we can win football matches. It is just a fact that Argentina have superior individuals with superior skills and if we go one-on-one with them you don’t need to ask who will win the game. We have to play in a special way and we have a clear identity.”

They did just that.

Halldorsson thrilled to stop Messi PK: “I did some homework”

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Hannes Halldorsson was already an Icelandic hero, but he’s on the path to legend status following another star turn on Saturday.

Iceland’s goalkeeper was credited with six saves, one a penalty kick denial on Lionel Messi, as the Strákarnir okkar picked up a point in their first ever World Cup match.

[ RECAP: Argentina 1-1 Iceland ]

Here’s how the Randers goalkeeper described the penalty, and the day. From the BBC:

“For me as a goalkeeper to play for Iceland and face the best player in the world at a penalty is a big moment and a dream come true to save it, especially as it helped us get a big point which I hope is going to prove important to us. It is our goal to qualify.

“I did some homework. This was a situation which I knew could come up. I looked at a lot of penalties from Messi and had a good feeling that he would go this way today.”

“Dream come true” is an often overused phrase, but think about it: How many goalkeepers have actually dreamed of staring down Messi at the penalty spot? Probably tens of thousands.