Argentina – Iceland

This has not been the ideal build up to the World Cup Finals for Argentina although they remain fifth favourites in most places to win the tournament having finished Runners Up four years ago. Any team with Lionel Messi leading the way has to be respected, but Argentina did not have the greatest of Qualifying campaigns and look to have been placed in what could be an awkward Group.

The opening game is very important for Argentina with the opponent expected to be the ‘weakest’ team in the section, but there are some real questions of Jorge Sampaoli and whether he knows how to get the best out of his players. The system being used does not seem to be suited to the Argentina strengths, but the attacking talent is the envy of many teams across the world and gives them every chance of battling their way through the section.

Argentina have seen a couple of international friendly games postponed in the last couple of weeks which means they are perhaps a little undercooked ahead of the first World Cup game. They did beat Haiti 4-0, but that was the only game played since the 6-1 humiliation at the hands of Spain in March. Four years ago Argentina narrowly won all three Group games played at the World Cup meaning they have won 8 of their last 9 Group games at the Finals.

Sergio Romero was ruled out on the eve of the World Cup Finals which means Willy Caballero is likely to be the first choice goalkeeper. Manuel Lanzini was another who suffered an injury that rules him out for the months ahead, but Argentina have a wealth of attacking options to fall back upon. Defensively there are some real questions to answer for this team.

The last few years have seen Icelandic Football improve on the national stage and they suffered some disappointment with close finishes that saw them barely miss out on major international football for the first time. The last four years have been the best in the history of Iceland with the team reaching back to back major international tournaments and making their debut in both the European Championship and now the World Cup.

Getting to Euro 2016 was a big achievement for Iceland but the run to the Quarter Final has given them a taste from the top table. It also meant the players were confident enough to finish above the likes of Croatia and Turkey to take their place in the World Cup Finals and it would be foolish to completely dismiss Iceland’s chances of an upset or two with the players forming a sum greater than their individual parts.

Iceland’s recent form in international friendly settings may not inspire a lot of confidence though as they have not won any of their last 6 games since their final World Cup Qualifier was played against Kosovo back in October. The fact they have lost 4 of those friendlies will be a concern for Iceland who are in a difficult section if they wish to continue to surpass expectations and make the Last 16 of the World Cup Finals.

Gylfi Sigurdsson missed the final Premier League games for Everton, but Iceland will be over the moon their star player is fit to play in the World Cup. The starting eleven almost picks itself for Iceland and they will look to their bond at this level to try and upset the bigger nations in the Group.

On paper this looks an absolute mismatch when you think the two time former World Cup Champions are taking on a team with the smallest population who have ever Qualified for the World Cup Finals.
Football is never played on paper though.

Argentina will be under huge expectations to deliver at the World Cup Finals but they look very short in the outright markets when you think of how erratically they played in the World Cup Qualifiers. In recent years Argentina have come very close to winning a big prize in either the Copa America or the World Cup with three consecutive defeats in the Final of those competitions, but it does feel like the window for success for this current crop of players has closed.

Of course Lionel Messi is capable of turning on the magic and helping Argentina come through a difficult Group and make a big run again, but defensively they look very vulnerable. Any thoughts of overlooking Iceland will quickly come back to haunt Argentina who look a little undercooked for the World Cup Finals having played just a single friendly since March.

Two years ago Iceland stunned all of Europe with their run to the Quarter Final of Euro 2016 and this is a team who are capable of upsetting ‘bigger’ nations with their team bond a key to the success. Iceland won’t be ashamed of letting Argentina have the ball and look to counter with direct football, while they are a team that will be confident whenever they get set pieces to deliver into the box.

Recent friendly results have not been the best but they had lost 6 of 9 friendlies ahead of Euro 2016 and that didn’t seem to have an affect on the performances in the Finals.

Getting out of the Group will be a big challenge for Iceland but I expect they can give Argentina a scare here and backing both teams to score looks a very big price to me. At the Euro 2016 tournament Iceland scored and conceded in games against Portugal, France and England which suggests finding chances in this game with Argentina is far from beyond their capabilities.

Holding Argentina out won’t be easy but I don’t think Iceland roll over for them and this could be one of the real surprises of the opening World Cup games.

However the pick from the game is looking for both teams to score at the appealing prices you can, even if that price has just come in slightly in the last couple of days. It should be a close game overall and Argentina may edge Iceland out with their superior attacking talent, but Iceland showed in Euro 2016 they can take the limited chances that come their way and I think this will be a decent watch on Saturday afternoon.

Prediction: Argentina to Win – @1.35 in

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