Tiny Iceland made a stunning impact in their first-ever World Cup on Saturday when they held 2014 runners-up Argentina to a pulsating 1-1 draw but Lionel Messi‘s tournament began wretchedly as he saw his penalty saved by Hannes Halldorsson.
Sergio Aguero gave the two-time world champions the lead after 19 minutes before Iceland, showing the same commitment and self-belief that saw them stun the soccer world with their run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, hit back four minutes later through Alfred Finnbogason.
Argentina, playing in all-black and roared on by the vast majority of the crowd in a rocking Spartak Stadium, eventually took command, delivering wave after wave of attacks in the second half.
Yet they actually created few clear chances either side of the poorly-struck 64th-minute penalty by Messi, who drew a blank despite a remarkable 11 shots during the match.
Iceland, by far the smallest country by population to appear at a World Cup and inspired by their “thunderclapping” fans, ran and battled tirelessly as they wrote another unlikely chapter in their short but glorious major tournament history.
Croatia beat Nigeria 2-0 on Saturday with an own goal from Oghenekaro Etebo and a penalty from Luka Modric to go top of World Cup Group D, one of the toughest and most unpredictable in the tournament.
Modric’s coolly taken 71st minute spot kick gave the scoreline a clear-cut feel, but the fact that Croatia failed to score on their own from open play was testament to some wayward shooting.
While dominating for long periods, they struggled to penetrate the Nigerian defense and failed repeatedly to find the target with speculative shots from well outside the penalty area.
The result puts Croatia in pole position for now after Argentina – their next opponents in the group – were unexpectedly held to a 1-1 draw by Iceland.
WATCH: Animals at 2 German zoos predict who will be knocked out in early rounds of soccer World Cup
Yussuf Poulsen scored in the 59th minute to give Denmark all the scoring it needed in a 1-0 victory over Peru in both team’s World Cup opener.
Peru, making its first World Cup appearance in 36 years, missed a key chance to get on the board early when Christian Cueva botched a penalty kick just before halftime.
Peru’s Paolo Guerrero, the country’s all-time scoring leader, didn’t start but came on toward the end to try to spark some offense to no avail.
France became the first team to win a Video Assistant Referee decision in World Cup play in a 2-1 win over Australia in the opener for both teams Saturday in Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia.
After a scoreless first half, the VAR system was used to overturn a missed foul against France’s Antoine Griezmann after play was initially waved on. After the video review, a penalty kick was assessed and Griezmann drove it home for the lead at the 58-minute mark.
Australia tied it on a penalty kick by Mile Jedinak four minutes later, but Paul Pogba sealed it for France with nine minutes left in regulation.
© 2018 Reuters