Argentina vs Iceland
It’s Argentina versus Iceland. Lionel Messi versus the world.
As Messi and Co. open their World Cup 2018 campaign against Iceland, they know there’s only one result that will satisfy their fans and a nation still hurting from their “almost there” moment in the 2014 instalment of the tournament.
Every win matters for Argentina from here on out and Iceland will certainly need some of their Euro 2016 magic if they want to stage an upset against a team determined to get the job done on the biggest stage of all.
There’s only one man that will be the focus of every football fan on Matchday 1 of the Group Stage.
Messi is playing for Argentina with a revolver pointed on his head: deliver the World Cup title and he will be the greatest player of all time (both for Argentina and the world), but fail and he will be remembered as someone who can’t even win the FIFA event despite being the so-called “best footballer” on the planet.
Indeed, the World Cup 2018 results will be crucial to what legacy he will leave behind.
In fact, it might even determine whether we will see him in the next World Cup or not, with the 30-year-old striker suggesting that he will retire for good if La Albiceleste underperform in the competition.
“I don’t know. It will depend how we do, how it ends,” Messi said via The Independent. “The fact we’ve lost three finals now has led to some complicated moments with the Argentine press due to the differences in seeing what it means to reach a final.”
Sure enough, Messi will be pivotal for Argentina in the opener against Iceland and throughout the tournament. After all, the Albiceleste know what life is like without Messi.
Messi played in just 10 of 18 qualifying games in CONMEBOL after a brief retirement from international football and an injury. In those eight games that he missed, Argentina won only once.
Meanwhile, in the 10 matches that he featured in, Argentina bagged six victories, three draws and only one defeat. Oh, and La Pulga also scored a hat-trick in the final qualifying game against Ecuador to give the Argentines a return ticket to the World Cup—this after genuine fears that they would miss the summer showdown.
For their part, Iceland are more than aware of Messi and what he can do. They know there’s nothing more dangerous than a wounded and hungry beast.
Despite that, however, the Icelanders also know for a fact that they are capable of surprising even the top dogs.
No one will ever forget their magical Euro 2016 run that saw them beat a highly favoured England squad in the Round of 16. And they proved in the World Cup qualifiers that their run in the European Championship was not a flash in the pan, topping Group I that featured the likes of Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey.
Iceland have top-quality players such as Alfred Finnbogason, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Aron Gunnarsson, and all four are undoubtedly as motivated as Messi and Argentina to make history in the competition.
Besides Messi, experience is the main advantage of Argentina in their match-up with Iceland. The two nations have never met before, so it all comes down to which team has more experience in the tournament.
Argentina are the clear winners in that category, having last missed the World Cup in 1970. They have since won two World Cup titles (1978 and 1986) and finished as runners-up in 2014—losing 1-0 in the final against Germany.
Furthermore, in their last three World Cup appearances, Argentina have won all their opening matches, beating Ivory Coast 2-1 in 2006; Nigeria 1-0 in 2010 and; Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-1 in 2014.
Meanwhile, this is the first time that Iceland qualified for the event. They barely missed out in 2014, but their lack of exposure on the grandest stage might prove to be their biggest flaw. The World Cup is different from the Euros, after all.
What are the odds?
Considering the abovementioned facts, it’s easy to see why our World Cup 2018 odds have Argentina as the huge favourites.
The Argentines are at odds of 1X2 @ 1.34 to win, while the Icelandic nation are at a far-off 1X2 @ 9.00.
The difference in quality is also clear in us Asian Handicap sports betting. Argentina are given a -1.25 handicap that pays at 1.85, while Iceland have a +1.25 start at 2.08 to even the playing field.
Despite Messi’s presence for Argentina and Iceland’s propensity to attack on the counter, a high-scoring affair is an unlikely result, at least according to our odds. Over 2.50 goals pays at 2.36, while Under 2.50 is at 1.63.
Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.
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