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Messi misses penalty, Iceland holds Argentina to draw

17 June 2018

Messi knew he had to find something special to match the Portuguese on Saturday, June 16, but ended up squandering a golden chance to write his own headlines as he failed to convert from the penalty spot.

But Iceland, the smallest-ever country by population to qualify for the World Cup, equalised four minutes later when Alfred Finnbogason swept home a loose ball from close range.

Messi's Argentina were held to a surprise 1-1 draw against Iceland.

The head of the Palestinian soccer federation, Jibril Rajoub, said that Israel's insistence on holding the match in Jerusalem turned it into a "political tool", and urged Arab and Muslim sports fans to burn photos and T-shirts of star player Lionel Messi if the game went ahead.

"It's not only that they're very tall, it's also that they're very good getting balls in the air", he said.

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Messi's struggles were in sharp contrast to the brilliant individual performance of his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portugal captain having scored a hat-trick in a thrilling 3-3 clash with Spain.

"[Messi] is very fit, he's very well prepared", Jorge said, "he's really looking forward to World Cup, and he hopes to be able to achieve his dream".

"Obviously it hurts me to have missed the penalty".

A midfielder with Argentina's Independiente, the 25-year-old is hardly known outside South America - and the Group D opener will be only his third cap - but picking Meza over Juve playmaker Paulo Dybala or young striker Cristian Pavon means Messi is the undisputed heart of this team.

Slovakia in 2010 was the last first-time World Cup team to make it to the knockout stage of the tournament and Iceland believes it can make a run, as well. Birkir Bjarnason pushed wide his near post effort.

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Argentina were expected to kick off with a victory against Iceland on Saturday, but had to settle for a point in a cagey 1-1 affair.

Argentine legend Diego Maradona is no stranger to controversies.

"He has a long-term contract with Argentina but he sees the World Cup as a platform to move into European club football".

"The first match is always the most hard".

The draw allowed Croatia to set the early pace in a tough group after sauntering past Nigeria, 2-0.

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Croatia take on African powerhouse Nigeria in Saturday's final match in Kaliningrad in Group D, providing a possible test of FIFA's determination to keep racism out of its showpiece tournament in Russian Federation.

Messi misses penalty, Iceland holds Argentina to draw