Moscow: In what was the biggest game in the short footballing history of Iceland, the focus was always going to be on their opponents - Argentina.
But the smallest nation by population to qualify for the World Cup made a remarkable entry on the biggest stage when they held Argentina to a 1-1 draw in their Group D match after Lionel Messi missed the second half penalty and a chance to give 'La Albiceleste' a winning start to their World Cup campaign.
The 45,000 capacity, Spartak Stadium in Moscow offers the best seats to the media which were right behind Argentina dugout and one can easily see the emotions on the face of Argentine coach Jorge Sampaoli, pacing down the touchline as his side hit the roadblock against Heimir Hallgrimsson's side.
Match for match
Inside the stadium, Argentina fans outnumbered their counterparts by some margins, but on the field, there was no room for margins as the game started on an intense note.
Argentina started on a front-foot and made an early pressure count when they broke the deadlock in the 19th minute. Defender Marcos Rojo drilled the ball into the box where he found Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero, who turned his marker and fired a shot past keeper Hannes Halldorsson.
But the joy of going ahead didn't last long for Sampaoli's team after keeper Willy Caballero, tentative and nervy since the beginning, could only parry Gylfi Sigurdsson shot into the path of Alfred Finnbogason.
The forward made no mistake in finding the back of the net to give Iceland their first ever World Cup goal, as teams went into the breather with one goal apiece, with Messi drawing a save out of Halldorsson, but largely subdued.
As the match progressed, both sets of fans created Spartak Stadium a cauldron. Argentina fans sang the songs of Messi and Maradona while despite being few and confined to one corner of the stadium, Icelandic fans matched the voices of their rivals with their trademark 'Viking Thunder Clap', making the venue an absolute treat to savour the football game.
The decisive moment of the game came in the 64th minute when Messi found the midfielder Maximiliano Meza with a ball over the top but Meza was brought down to the ground inside the box as referee Szymon Marciniak pointed to the spot.
The 30-year-old Barcelona man stepped up to take the spot-kick. He went for the keeper's right corner, but didn't get it far enough from Halldorsson, who guessed it correctly to add another missed penalty count against the name of the five-time World Player of the year.
Messi, who scored a record number of free kicks in the La Liga in the 2017-18 season, had one last chance in the dying seconds of the game, but on his hunches, at the end of the game, he missed the mark, as the referee blew the full-time whistle.
As dejected Messi took off his captain's armband, Iceland players started their celebrations, as they had made a remarkable debut to the World Cup, leaving Jorge Sampaoli’s Argentina with much to ponder.
“I did my homework, I looked at a lot of penalties by Messi, and I also looked at how I had been behaving in previous penalties, so I tried to get into their mindset, how they would be thinking about me. I think the Argentinians felt a bit frustrated that they weren’t getting through and it was important we equalised so quickly. I guess our game plan worked almost perfectly.”
- Hannes Halldorsson (Iceland goalkeeper)
Argentina 1 (Sergio Aguero 19) drew with Iceland 1 (Alfred Finnbogason 23)