Argentina v Iceland
Kick-off 2:00pm. Live on ITV
FOR obvious reasons I loved the Icelandic Euro-story from 2016 but sometimes those unexpected pockets of success are bourne out of a combination of factors; for me, the two factors that contribute most frequently are a famous crop of talent coming through the ranks and the appointment of a high-profile manager – Iceland's story is a very different one…their manager's day job is a dentist for a start off and to rustle up interest from fans, he meets at a pub in Reykjavik to discuss tactics!
It's been a long-haul journey for the Icelandic team and their recent success is no accident; drawing from a population of just 334,000, they are by far the smallest nation to ever play at the World Cup and to give some context for those who are blind to their achievements, the country is a mere quarter the size of the previous smallest nation Trinidad & Tobago.
It gets even better, only 55% of the population are in the right age profile to represent their country and 45% of them are women…that's an unprecedented talent pool for a team that has risen from 130 in the world rankings just 6 years ago to a staggering 22nd and begs the question how have they done it?
One word sums it up and it's a word that those perpetual f*ckwits and charlatans within England's FA might well consider; infastructure.
Until recently, Iceland offered little training for soccer coaches, requiring coaches who wanted to become certified to travel to the European mainland to learn about the game. The country now offers cheap courses for anyone interested in becoming a football coach at any level. Out of the 334,252 residents of Iceland, almost 700 own either an A or B licence to coach from UEFA!
The country also began building domed stadiums so its residents can play in the winter. It now boasts 11 domed fields, 22 heated outdoor fields and another 100 artificial turf stadiums, making sure that young Icelandic players always have a place to play despite the harsh conditions.
Argentina need no introduction and there's enough info and intel out there for folk to form their own judgements on a side that boasts Messi, Aguero and contender for world's ugliest human – Angel Di Maria. Safe to say they're not too shabby but I reckon the sheer physical presence and work-rate of the Nordic players may just make life harder than they realise and ,don't forget, the Argentine forward line's quality isn't quite reflected at the back; Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru and Venezuela have all scored a brace against them in recent matches.
- Iceland to score 2 6/1 (Bet365)
- Aguero 5/4 (Bet365)
- Both teams to score
- Otamendi to be booked
- Skulason to be booked
- 28/1 (Bet365)