GELENDZHIK, Russia (Reuters) - Iceland’s dream World Cup debut may have gotten them a point against two-time champions Argentina, but Aron Gunnarsson and his team mates are already putting that result behind them as they move on to the challenge of Nigeria.
The resilient islanders showed their iron will once again, coming back from a goal down to draw 1-1 with an Argentina side led by Lionel Messi and teeming with household names.
“Now we need to focus on Nigeria. We can’t dwell on that game now, if we don’t focus on Nigeria and don’t get a result there, then that point is no use for anyone,” the combative midfielder told reporters at a training session on Sunday.
The Icelandic team left Moscow immediately after the game and returned to their base on the Black Sea coast in the picturesque holiday town of Gelendzhik, where they are training at the modest local soccer stadium.
Wearing a bracelet on his right wrist with the words “Life Is Now” spelled out in beads in Icelandic, Gunnarsson said he didn’t get to sleep until around four o’clock in the morning after his country’s superb World Cup debut.
“I was still hyper after the game, the adrenalin was still going high, but that’s just part of it. I think when you play a game like this and it’s high-tempo, it’s hard to shut everything down,” Gunnarsson explained.
The 29-year-old said Iceland respected their more illustrious opponents but weren’t in awe of the likes of Messi.
“If you stand by and idolise him, he’s going to go past you and he’s going to score, he’s going to take advantage of that. It’s just important to respect the guy and play your normal football,” he said.
Coach Heimir Hallgrimsson led a light training session allowing opportunities to Iceland’s unused substitutes to stretch their legs, while the likes of Gunnarsson and goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson, who saved a second-half penalty from Messi, jogged gently around the pitch.
Hallgrimsson echoed Gunnarsson’s desire to move on from their brilliant World Cup debut as quickly as possible.
“Our plan is to finish the Argentina game today with a meeting and then don’t look back, start to focus on Nigeria,” Hallgrimsson told reporters.
Croatia beat Nigeria 2-0 in Saturday’s other Group D game and they top the group on three points, with Argentina and Iceland on a point apiece.
“This is a must-win game for Nigeria, and that makes it a little bit psychologically different, they have to win,” Hallgrimsson said of Friday’s match, adding that he expects the group to be tense.
“This group is going to be decided in the last minutes, in the last game. It’s going to be down to some margins, a set piece, extra time goal. This is how this group is going to be played,” he said.
Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty