The first set of matches for Group D are in the books with Croatia finding themselves in pole position while Messi suffers another heart break with his national team. This heart break had an extra dimension though where it was not about Messi not being able to take the national team to the next level, but more about Messi failing them by not being able convert the penalty kick.
When Aguero converted the early goal, it looked like the rout was going to be on and Argentina was going to cruise to an easy 3 points, putting the fluke label on an Iceland team still riding the high of the European Cup and their form in the latter stages of qualification games. Iceland focuses on what they do best…defend with a fight. Fight they did and scored the equalizer even though at that time, the goal seemed to just delay the inevitable of the Argentina goals. Those goals never came as Iceland ‘s bus was parked perfectly down not allowing Argentina stars to find the space they need. The breakthrough moment came at last in the form of a penalty. Ironic in fact as the mighty comparison between Ronaldo and Messi took yet another shape where Ronaldo had converted easily the day before…not Messi. In the final minutes, Messi had another opporunity to turn the game with a free kick, just like Ronaldo had a chance to the day before. Ronaldo did but Messi could not.
I am personally sick of hearing about the comparisons between the two over the last decade so will not start a new one. One thing cannot be denied however, it was in Messi’s head yesterday. Ronaldo’s hattrick the day before and his will to carry a Portugal team that is nowhere near as rich in talent as Argentina is put even more pressure on Messi who could not deliver. The pressure will even be higher now against Croatia who will be content with a single point whereas Argentina will need to win knowing a win by Nigeria or Iceland in the other fixture of the group especially if it is from Iceland, can see Argentina bow down from the tournament in a very early stage.
Croatia got the job done with a 2-0 win over Nigeria. Croatia were the better team overall dominating their opponents physically especially in midfield. Nigeria started to show some pace and attack in the second half but the second goal put them away for good.
Matchday 2 for the group will now feature two very interesting games. A week ago, a draw between Argentina and Croatia could have been an acceptable result for both teams but now it has become a must win for Argentina. Iceland will look to continue building up on their dream scenario against Nigeria who will need a win to keep their chances alive. My bold prediction for the group has already gone down the drain with Iceland getting a point in the first game. Watching a country with its population and some part time players succeed at the top level is interesting to watch but I fail to see how pundits who blast Mourinho for the negative football are applauding Iceland for their “playing smart to win” attitude. It is all the same bus folks and negative football is negative football. It helps Iceland win games so they use it and have perfected it with great defensive concentration and high work rates by all their players. These pundits who are now praising this style of play are the same guys who will blast Iceland for not coming out of their shell should Nigeria beat them. TV is full of score analysts as opposed to football analysts.
LIVERPOOL PLAYER WATCH
Lovren played the entire 90 minutes for Croatia. Nigeria could not threaten with their speed and Lovren played a comfortable solid game in defense. 7/10