Runners-up last time out, Argentina start their World Cup 2018 campaign in Group D with a fixture against tournament debutants Iceland in Moscow.
Otkrytiye Arena, Moscow, Russian Federation
Key Stat: Iceland have drawn two and lost four of their last six full matches since qualifying for the World Cup.
Expert Verdict: World Cup debutants Iceland only made their major tournament debut two years ago, when they stunned England on their way to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals. They looked to have continued that form in World Cup qualification, but poor form since then has derailed their recent progress a little. Argentina have also not been at their best of late, but they will expect to take three points from their opening game in Group D.
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Two-time World Cup winners Argentina, who lost in the final to Germany last time out, face World Cup debutants Iceland at the Otkritie Arena in Moscow in the first match in Group D in this year's tournament. Taking place on Saturday June 16, the match - the first ever fixture between the two nations - kicks off at 4pm local time.
After taking the decision to cancel their proposed pre-World Cup friendly against Israel, Argentina have played just one game since losing 6-1 to Spain in March. That game, a 4-0 win against Haiti, did see Sergio Aguero make a goalscoring return from injury, however. Other notable selection decisions included Willy Caballero in goal for that game. Since then, Manuel Lanzini has been ruled out of the World Cup with an ACL injury, meanwhile – River Plate’s Enzo Perez has taken his place in the squad.
Lionel Messi won the Golden Ball at the last World Cup after firing Argentina to the final, and he has been in sublime form again this year - including scoring the hat-trick that sent Argentina to the World Cup and a hat-trick in their most recent match against Haiti. Sergio Aguero’s return from injury alongside him is also a boost - the Manchester City striker scored 30 goals this season before his campaign was cut short by his injury problems.
Argentina team have won three and lost two of their last five matches – a sequence which includes a 1-0 win against World Cup hosts Russia thanks to Sergio Aguero’s late goal, but also a 4-2 defeat to fellow Group D side Nigeria, again in Russia, after Argentina blew a 2-0 lead. They beat Italy 2-0 in Manchester in their next game, but then crashed to a dismal 6-1 defeat to Spain. They restored some morale last time out, however, beating Haiti 4-0 in Buenos Aires thanks to a hat-trick from Lionel Messi and another Sergio Aguero goal. They were also due to play Israel in a warm-up match, but opted to cancel the fixture for political reasons.
Defenders:Eduardo Salvio, Nicolas Otamendi, Marcos Rojo, Nicolas Tagliafico
Midfielders:Angel di Maria, Ever Banega, Giovani Lo Celso, Maximiliano Meza
Forwards:Sergio Aguero, Lionel Messi
Gylfi Sigurdsson is back from injury and featured in both of Iceland's pre-tournament friendlies, but captain Aron Gunarsson - whose domestic season was cut short by a knee injury - did not feature. He is a doubt for the opening game as a result, with Birkir Bjarnason and Emil Hallfredsson having started both friendlies in midfield in his place.
Gylfi Sigurdsson’s return is a big boost for Iceland National Football team - no player in the current squad has scored more international goals than the Everton man, even of his debut season at Goodison Park did not live up to expectations. Up front, Alfred Finnbogason has scored in both of Iceland's pre-tournament warm-up matches, meanwhile. The Augsburg man has been in good goalscoring form, having also netted 12 times in 19 Bundesliga matches last season.
Iceland’s last win came outside of the FIFA fixture calendar, when a team of Scandinavian-based players beat Indonesia 4-1 in Jakarta. In full international fixtures, Iceland have lost to the Czech Republic and drawn with Qatar in Doha, lost to Mexico and Peru in America and, most recently, conceded two late goals to lose 3-2 to Norway and then blew a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 with Ghana in Reykjavik.
Defenders:Birkir Saevarsson, Kari Arnason, Ragnar Sigurdsson, Hordur Magnusson
Midfielders:Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Emil Hallfredsson, Birkir Bjarnason
Forwards:Alfred Finnbogason, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson
Argentina and Iceland have never previously faced each other. The most recent South American team Iceland faced were Peru, who finished two places behind Argentina in World Cup qualifying after drawing twice with them. Iceland, however, lost 3-1. Iceland have won just one of their eight previous matches against CONMEBOL teams.
Iceland are without a win in their last six full international matches – their only win since achieving World Cup qualification came outside the FIFA international window
Argentina have only lost twice in their last 11 matches, but they did concede ten goals in those two games
Iceland have only won one of the eight matches they have played against South American nations (against Bolivia in 1994), drawing one and losing the other six
Lionel Messi has scored hat-tricks in two of his last three international appearances, against Ecuador and Haiti.
Argentina may have suffered a big hit to morale and some indifferent recent form given results like the friendly defeats to Nigeria and Spain, but the 2014 World Cup runners-up will expect to be back on top form in Russia.
Lionel Messi missed both of those defeats, but has scored hat-tricks in two of his last three international appearances, while fit-again Sergio Aguero has scored three goals in his last three matches for Argentina.
The return of both is a major boost for the Argentines, who can put their poor form behind them and kick off their 2018 World Cup in style against debutants Iceland.
Iceland themselves are in poor form – they have not won a full international match since securing World Cup qualification and, while their Euro 2016 exploits showed not to write them off, they will need a significant improvement to get a result against Argentina.
With captain Aron Gunnarsson out injured, and star man Gylfi Sigurdsson only just back from his own injury lay-off, however, the odds are stacked against them.
As ever with Argentina, for all their attacking strength it is their defence that is the worry – ten goals conceded in those defeats to Nigeria and Spain highlight that, even with Premier League title winner Nicolas Otamendi at the heart of their back four.
But Iceland, even with Alfred Finnbogasson scoring twice in his last two games, should not worry the Argentine defence. With Lionel Messi pulling the strings, they should win on Saturday and win well.
Unsurprisingly, Argentina are big favourites for the match against Iceland on Saturday, with Betway offering 7/20 on an Argentine win and most other bookmakers pricing them at 1/3.
Those odds do improve to 17/20 with Ladbrokes if you back them to win to nil, however – while they have conceded ten goals in two recent defeats, they also kept clean sheets in all three wins since securing World Cup qualification.
Key to Argentina’s success will, of course, be Lionel Messi and he is 16/19 with 888sport to score at any time in Saturday’s fixture. With hat-tricks in two of his last three Argentina appearances, meanwhile, you can back him at a best price of 4/1 with Betway to score two or more goals.
Also in good form up front for Argentina is Sergio Aguero, with three goals in his last three appearances, and he is 11/8 with Bet365 to score at any time.
Iceland’s last four matches have also seen at least three goals scored, meanwhile, and over 2.5 goals is a tempting bet, therefore. The best price on over 2.5 goals is being offered by 888sport, at 19/17. Ladbrokes are offering 27/20 on an Argentina win and over 2.5 goals, meanwhile.
Argentina should beat Iceland on Saturday despite their poor recent form. With Lionel Messi in the team they have won their last three matches, with their superstar scoring two hat-tricks in that time. Iceland simply do not have anything to combat Messi in peak form.