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On paper, few matches in World Cup history will have been more of a mismatch than Argentina against Iceland. The two-time champions, producers of some of the best players to ever grace the game, against the debutantes and smallest nation to ever qualify for the tournament. For context, the population of the Buenos Aires province, Argentina's capital, is 45 times bigger than that of Iceland's entire population.
This was David versus Goliath -- and then some. Not that you'd have noticed -- any notion that the tiny island nation would be overawed by the occasion and their opponents was quickly dispelled, as they went toe-to-toe with Argentina from the first whistle. Moments after Nicolás Tagliafico's stooping header flashed inches wide of the post, one long ball over the top -- in an instant exposing Argentina's frailties -- set Alfred Finnbogason free, but the forward couldn't keep his volley down. Argentina were then almost the masters of their own downfall, gifting Iceland the ball inside their own box in an attempt to play out from the back. READ: 'It's in blood, the nature and the culture.' Iceland's hard World Cup work pays off READ: Is Russia 2018 the last chance for Messi and Ronaldo?
The ball eventually fell to Birkir Bjarnason, scorer of Iceland's first ever goal in a major tournament two years ago in France, but the midfielder somehow skewed the ball wide with the goal gaping. It wasn't long before Lionel Messi came to the fore, using his customary shuffle inside and left-foot shot to test Hannes Thor Halldorsson in the Iceland goal. But it was Sergio Aguero, previously without a World Cup goal in his eight appearances, who breathed life into Argentina's campaign.
Marcos Rojo's scuffed shot was controlled superbly by the Manchester City forward, who brilliantly wriggled free of his marker and slammed a shot into the roof of the net. Cue coach Jorge Sampaoli's trademark wild fist pumping on the touchline, this year swapping his normal casual attire for a sharp suit. Anyone who had forgotten about Iceland's exploits at Euro 2016 and thought that early goal meant it was game over were soon given a reminder of their fighting spirit. With Argentina's sloppy defense again exposed, Finnbogason pounced after a scramble in the box to coolly tuck the ball past Willy Caballero.
At halftime, despite having just 21% possession, Iceland had been more than a match for their famous rivals, even creating the best chances in the game. But the match-changing moment came just after the hour mark. Iceland, having defended resolutely for so long, gave away a sloppy penalty as Hoerdur Magnusson clumsily tripped Aguero in the box. Up stepped Messi, the man on whose shoulders Argentina have placed their hopes, and -- not for the first time in his career -- missed the crucial spot kick.
Halldorsson guessed the right way and comfortably palmed Messi's penalty away from danger. Iceland's keeper isn't just adept at keeping one of the world's greatest players at bay. Just two days before Iceland's training camp started, Halldorsson was in Reykjavik doing some "sidework" -- directing a soft drink commercial in his role as film director where he had previously forged a career. Before the 90 minutes were up, Halldorsson's lightning-quick reflexes were again called upon as he tipped Cristian Pavon's effort round the post at full stretch. For all their star power, Argentina were unable to find a way through Iceland's sturdy defense. It's the first time La Albiceleste have failed to win an opening World Cup game since they lost to Cameroon in 1990.
Lionel Messi reacts in frustration after missing a penalty. The good news for Messi et al is they still reached the final that year. Perhaps one of the most telling aspects of the game came after the final whistle, or rather it was what didn't come. Despite this being their first World Cup, picking up their first ever World Cup point, there was no exuberant celebrations from Iceland, no joyous huddles. This was just another game, they now feel like they belong here. -CNN
Croatia made a winning World Cup start against Nigeria, as Oghenekaro Etebo's own goal and a Luka Modric penalty decided a poor Group D match in Kaliningrad. Etebo, who joined Stoke City from Portuguese club Feirense for £6.35m on Monday, turned Modric's first-half corner into his own net after Ante Rebic and Mario Mandzukic had both got touches. Modric then converted a 71st-minute penalty - Croatia's first shot on target - after William Troost-Ekong had manhandled Mandzukic at a corner. Nigeria offered little attacking threat, although Dejan Lovren blocked Alex Iwobi's shot just before half-time, and Odion Ighalo glanced a Brian Idowu cross straight at goalkeeper Danijel Subasic.
Victory takes Croatia top of their group, after Iceland held Argentina 1-1 earlier on Saturday.
VAR was used for the first time in World Cup history as Les Blues celebrated victory over their Group C rivals in Kazan Paul Pogba rescued France with a moment of magic as VAR made its mark on the World Cup. The Manchester United midfielder was credited with the 80th-minute strike that secured an opening victory for Didier Deschamps' men. But it was tough work Les Bleus against an unfancied Aussie side for which Huddersfield's Aaron Mooy was outstanding. France took the lead in the 58 minute when Antoine Griezmann scored from the spot after getting the benefit of the first VAR penalty decision in the tournament's history. The Atletico Madrid striker was clipped by Josh Risdon's last-ditch tackle as he looked set to race clear on goal from Pogba's brilliant pass.
Uruguayan referee Andres Cunha saw nothing wrong with the challenge but changed his mind after being alerted to a possible offence by VAR official Mauro Vigliano. It still looked a borderline decision. But Bert van Marwik's men were level four minutes later when Samuel Umtiti inexplicably punched away Mooy's floated free-kick and Aston Villa's Mile Jedinak scored from the spot. Then came Pogba's moment. The midfielder swapped passes with both Kylian Mbappe and substitute Olivier Giroud as he burst powerfully into the Aussie box. Pogba got some good fortune when defender Aziz Behich came across and appeared to get the touch that sent the ball looping over keeper Mat Ryan and in off the underside of the crossbar. And it took goalline technology to confirm the ball had gone in. But that mattered little of France as they kicked their campaign off with three points.
France (4-3-3): Lloris 6; Pavard 6, Varane 7, Umtiti 5, L Hernandez 6; Tolisso 5, Kante 8, Pogba 8; Griezmann 6, Mbappe 6, Dembele 5. Subs: Giroud 6 (Griezmann 70), Fekir 5 (Dembele 70), Matudi 5 (Tolisso 78).
Australia (4-2-3-1): Ryan 6; Risdon 6, Sainsbury 7, Milligan 6, Behich 6; Mooy 8, Jedinak 6; Leckie 5, Rogic 6, Kruse 5; Naboutt 5. Subs: Juric 5 (Naboutt 65), Irvine 5 (Rogic 72), Arzani 5 (Kruse 84). Referee: Andres Cunha (Uruguay), 5. Man of the match: Aaron Mooy (Australia)
Yussuf Poulsen secured a vital World Cup win for Denmark after Christian Cueva had missed a penalty for Peru. In a game both teams knew they needed to win after France's victory over Australia earlier in the day, the pace was fierce in the opening stages. Seven different Peru players tested Kasper Schmeichel in the Denmark goal during the first half as the nations traded blows. It was a physical opening period and William Kvist was forced off after around half an hour following back-to-back hits to his ribs, with Lasse Schone his replacement. For the third time in three Saturday games, VAR was assessed to award a penalty as Peru were handed the opportunity to open the scoring in their first World Cup game for 36 years.
Cueva picked himself up after a foul from Yussuf Poulsen but ballooned his effort over the bar just before half-time. Peru's went about trying to make amends in the second half and nearly made the breakthrough as Cueva combined with Edison Flores and Andre Carrillo inside the area but all were unable to test Schmeichel again. They were immediately made to pay as Eriksen was finally found in space and in turn fed Poulsen to run through and beat Pedro Gallese in the Peru goal.
Peru reacted by bringing on captain and top scorer Paolo Guerrero, who saw his ban for cocaine lifted so he could play in the World Cup. Alberto Rodriguez was inches away with a header from Yoshimar Yotun's free kick before Jefferson Farfan was denied on the line but it was not to be for the South Americans.
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