Sun, Dec 03, 2017 - Page 10 News List

Iceland eye ‘romantic’ Cup debut against Argentina

AP, 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 their Group D fixtures against Nigeria and old rivals 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 in October won their qualifying group ahead of Croatia, who were runners-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 on 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 are to be the opponent for Iceland’s debut as the smallest nation ever to play at a World Cup finals.

Messi and the two-time champions lie in wait to play Iceland on June 16 next year at Spartak Stadium in Moscow.

“You can’t have a better welcome,” Hallgrimsson said. “There are a lot of romantic things in our heads now we start to play Argentina.”

Iceland are to arrive in Russia as less of a surprise after their stunning European Championship debut last year.

Then, Iceland opened against soccer’s other superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo, and drew 1-1 with eventual champions Portugal to start a fairy-tale journey into the quarter-finals.

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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