The first match of Group D ended in frustration for Argentina after they struggled to break down a heroic Iceland in a 1-1 draw, with Lionel Messi missing a second-half penalty.
In the opening stages of the game Iceland showed little ambition, understandably sitting back and allowing Argentina to play against them, looking for a way through. Their opponents quickly ran out of steam, and started to show weaknesses of their own.
Argetina found little inspiration as they came up against two organised, defensive Icelandic banks happy to sit in deep. The best chances in the early stages of the first half came when Nicolas Otamendi and Nicolas Tagliafico both had glancing headers fly wide of the post.
There were signs of trouble for Argentina’s defence to come, when a poor Willy Caballero clearance came straight to Birkir Bjarnason, who drilled wide of the post. Argentina’s defence looked suspect throughout the match, and were lucky to be facing an opponent with limited attacking means.
Messi’s first chance came on 17 minutes, when a shot from distance brought a good stop from the Iceland ‘keeper Hannes Þór Halldórsson. Just two minutes later, Sergio Aguero had his first ever World Cup goal, his first in nine games of trying.
Manchester United defender Marcos Rojo drilled a low shot into a crowd of players, and Aguero calmly collected the ball before spinning in the box to release a great shot into the top corner.
It briefly looked as if Argentina would then go on to dominate, but a defensive mix-up in the box, where Argentina’s defence was static before Caballero parried a ball to Alfreo Finnbogason to sidefoot calmly home.
Iceland then had the best chance of the rest of the half, as Gylfi Sigurdsson had low shot parried away from close range, though Caballero was again guilty of pushing the ball back into the danger zone rather than away from the goal.
In the second half, Ever Banega soon replaced Lucas Biglia, and Argentina started to exert more pressure on their resolute opponents, and Messi needed to come deep for the ball less often than he had in the first 45, and his involvement was almost decisive right away.
Just after the hour, Argentina had a penalty when Maximiliano Meza was brought down by Horour Magnusson, chasing a flighted through ball from Messi into the box.
However, the South Americans watched on helplessly as Halldorsson palmed away a poor Messi effort.
While Argentina controlled the ball for large stretches, they held steady at the back, and with 20 minutes remaining the situation was summed up when Banega curled a hopeful, rather than dangerous, shot towards the ‘keeper from outside the box.
With 10 minutes remaining, Messi curled a trademark shot towards goal, with the crucial difference that it glided past the post, rather than creeping inside it.
As the end approached, Halldorsson capped a man-of-the-match display with a smart stop from a Cristian Pavon cross that was headed for the far corner.
In a game when Javier Mascherano became the most-capped Argentine in history in 144th appearance, it became clear that guile, not experience, is what Argentina continue to lack in international football.
–– ALEX NETHERTON, YAHOO SPORTS UK