Hannes Halldorsson’s save on a penalty kick by Lionel Messi in the 64th minute helped World Cup debutants Iceland grind out a 1-1 draw with two-time champions Argentina in the Group D opener in Moscow.
Playing virtually the entire second half in their own half of the pitch, the Strakarnir Okkar stubbornly held out against the 2014 runners-up and pre-World Cup favorites. Iceland was outshot 27-8, with Halldorsson making five saves behind a well-drilled defense that flooded players to the ball whenever an Argentina player had the slightest line of vision to shoot.
Messi, who stepped up to the spot after Sergio Aguero was run over by Hordur Magnusson as he tracked a cross into the penalty area, hit his attempt with pace but did not put it far away enough from Halldorsson, who correctly dove to his right and punched the shot from danger.
Messi had two chances to atone after his penalty miss, narrowly missing wide of the left post in the 82nd minute and then drilling a free kick into the Iceland wall in stoppage time. Halldorsson would have one more moment of glory, getting his left hand to a cross-turned-shot from the left by Carlos Pavon in the 87th minute that seemed destined for the far post.
The split of points leaves everything to play for in Group D as Nigeria and Croatia play later Saturday.
Aguero staked Argentina to a 1-0 lead in the 19th minute, taking a pass from Marco Rojo and turning to his left to find a half-step of space before beating Halldorsson with a 12-yard left-footed shot into the upper left side of the net. Iceland, though, equalized four minutes later as goalkeeper Willy Caballero spilled a cross by Gylfi Sigurdsson back into the middle of the penalty area, where Alfred Finnbogason pounced on the rebound and slotted home from the top of the six-yard box.
Iceland showed few signs of nerves in its first World Cup appearance which came on the heels of its first European Championship berth two years ago in which it stunned England in the round of 16 en route to a quarterfinal appearance. The Strakarnir Okkar should have had the lead inside 10 minutes, but Birkir Bjarnason dragged his shot from 10 yards wide of the left post after a shot by Johann Gudmundsson deflected in his direction.
That came almost straightaway after a near goal by Argentina in which defender Nicolas Tagliafico hit a stooping header that skipped narrowly wide of the left post before Halldorsson had time to react.
The match then settled into a pattern in which Argentina would have possession for what appeared to be minutes at a time trying to find creases in Iceland’s two lines of four that were stationed in the final third. Iceland often played all 10 men behind the ball, with right back Birkir Saevarsson consistently defusing the threat Angel Di Maria tried to create wide on the left.
Messi had plenty of touches and wound up taking 11 of Argentina’s 27 shots, putting three of them on frame. Argentina made it a point to funnel the ball to him through thge midfield when it gained possession, but Iceland often had numbers back defensively to prevent him from making a final push into the penalty area where he could use his lethal right foot.