Messi begins bid for 1st World Cup title against Iceland
MOSCOW — Lionel Messi takes the field for the first time in this year’s World Cup on Saturday when Argentina opens group play against Iceland, the smallest nation to ever play in the tournament.
The superstar forward goes into the World Cup under enormous pressure to finally win a major international title. Critics of the Barcelona forward believe that void takes him out of the debate as the best player in the history of the game.
Messi is playing in his fourth World Cup and came close to the title in 2014. Although he was named player of the tournament, Argentina lost to Germany 1-0 in the final. Messi took Argentina only to the quarterfinals in his first two World Cup appearances.
He turns 31 on June 24 during the group stage, and this could be Messi’s final shot at a World Cup title.
Messi will be the headliner of the Group D match at Spartak Stadium in Moscow, but Iceland could have strong fan support after its improbable run to the quarterfinals of the 2016 European Championship. Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson does not mind being the darling of the tournament in its World Cup debut and only second major tournament.
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. Captain Aron Gunnarsson, who sports a long red beard and plays the role of a Viking warrior, leads the postgame, slow-building clapping exchange between the team and fans that is Iceland’s trademark and should energize the crowd.
The game is at 4 p.m. local time (9 a.m. Eastern).