We should take our cue from Iceland. They picked up a point against World Cup winners Argentina and there was no maniacal celebration; it was job done. As Spain and Portugal will attest, a draw in your opening major tournament game is no catastrophe. That this was tiny Iceland, part-time dentist and population of 427 Iceland, is almost immaterial; this is a point towards qualification that looks entirely possible given the other participants in their group. They were not cowed by Argentina because nobody should be cowed by this Argentina.
This was no David v Goliath showdown, whatever the romanticists would have you believe. Although Argentina are ranked fifth in the world and Iceland 22nd, it’s worth noting that the latter have actually picked up more ranking points this season. While Argentina stumbled their way towards qualification for this World Cup, Iceland’s progress was fairly serene; they will not fear Croatia in their World Cup group because they have already finished above them in one table.
Those of us who do not watch a great deal of South American football could not truly comprehend how poor this Argentina side looks. Their lack of movement against a side who were always going to sit deep and sit organised, was astonishing. Right now, the decision not to truly test themselves against a defensively sound side in the run-up to this World Cup looks like folly. You simply cannot prepare for a major tournament with a game against Haiti.
It was like Argentina had watched England embarrass themselves against Iceland two years ago and decided that they would replicate that performance. After all, who needs movement, energy and invention when you have one of the best players in the world? Add into the mix some extraordinarily poor defending, and Argentina should perhaps be quietly pleased with a point.
Time and again, Argentina were trying to play at walking pace, perhaps understandable from a team with seven players over the age of 30, and time and again the only man in the box was Sergio Aguero. There was no dynamism in midfield, no sign of Angel Di Maria, and nobody on the same wavelength as Messi, who inevitably dropped deeper and deeper in an attempt to make things happen. By the end of the 90 minutes, he had attempted 11 shots and all but two were from outside or on the edge of the box. The closest he came to scoring was his frankly rotten penalty.
If the challenge was for him to follow Ronaldo in his impact on this nascent World Cup, then he fell flat on his arse. Right now, the tournament still belongs to the Portuguese.
Iceland did what Iceland can do – they defended deeply and stoically and took their chance when it came. They were never torn asunder by Argentina, who really should be nowhere near a list of favourites for this tournament. It is tempting to say that a team featuring Willy Caballero, Marcos Rojo and Nicolas Otamendi could never become world champions, but the problem is actually far deeper than that. This is a side that scored 19 goals in 18 qualifying games for this tournament despite an array of attacking talent. For context, Brazil scored 41 and bottom-placed Venezuela also scored 19.
This is an Argentina side that lacks cohesion and invention. That they drew 1-1 with Iceland should shock nobody.