Iceland eyes 'romantic' World Cup debut against Messi

Iceland will arrive in Russia as less of a surprise after its stunning European Championship debut last year.

1 December 2017 | 20:55

Source: Associated Press

  • Source: Associated Press
  • Last update: 1 December 2017 | 20:55

Iceland's soccer team coach Heimir Hallgrimsson waits for the beginning of the 2018 soccer World Cup draw in the Kremlin in Moscow, Friday, Dec. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

MOSCOW: Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson is excited about a "romantic" World Cup debut against Lionel Messi and Argentina.

Then he wants a divorce after his team completes its Group D fixtures against Nigeria and old rival Croatia.

"We seem to be a married couple," Hallgrimsson joked after being drawn to play the Croats for the third time in five years of World Cup play.

Iceland won its qualifying group in October ahead of Croatia which was runner-up. The popular Nordic nation was denied a place at the 2014 tournament by losing a playoff to the Croats.

"Absolutely after the World Cup we are going to get a divorce from Croatia," Hallgrimsson told reporters Friday at the State Kremlin Palace.

Still, romance blossomed in the smiling coach's words as he reflected on a tough but fascinating group.

Argentina will be the opponent for Iceland's debut as the smallest nation ever to play at a World Cup finals tournament.

Messi and the two-time champion lie in wait for Iceland on June 16 at Spartak Stadium in Moscow.

"You can't have a better welcome," Hallgrimsson said, acknowledging that "there are a lot of romantic things in our heads now we start to play Argentina."

Iceland will arrive in Russia as less of a surprise after its stunning European Championship debut last year.

Then, Iceland opened against soccer's other superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo, and drew 1-1 with eventual champion Portugal to start a fairytale journey into the quarterfinals.

That match in France showed the wider soccer world a post-game thunderclap exchange between players and fans that is now Iceland's signature.

Hallgrimsson hopes 15,000 of the island's population of about 330,000 will travel to Russia where Iceland should be many fans' second favorite team.

"I think (our fans) will be stars in the World Cup, happy people. They will enjoy Russia," said the coach, who is a qualified dentist. "I hope we keep on making people happy."

Still, Hallgrimsson is serious about advancing to the Round of 16.

"We deserve to be here," he said. "We aim to progress from the group."

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