Euro 2016 darlings Iceland were in dreamland on Friday after being drawn against Lionel Messi’s Argentina in their first appearance at a World Cup.
“It’s just romantic and fun. They are connected to the romance of the World Cup,” Heimir Hallgrimsson, the coach of the smallest of the 32 nations at the marquee June 14-July 15 competition, said after the draw in the State Kremlin Palace.
After opening their campaign against Argentina in Moscow on June 16, Iceland will face Nigeria on June 22 in Volgograd and Croatia on June 26 in Rostov-on-Don.
Hallgrimsson said his team fancied their chances against all three opponents, although he conceded that Iceland’s odds against two-time World Cup winners Argentina “were less than against the others”.
“You know football, you always have a chance. How much it is for Iceland against Argentina, I don’t know, but we have shown through the years that if we play well, we can at least give them a good game.”
He added that he had already spoken to his Argentina scout.
“He told me just one thing — number 10,” Hallgrimsson said in reference to Messi before breaking out into a laugh.
Iceland and their Viking fans became the Euro 2016 darlings after shocking England 2-1 to reach the quarter-finals.
With much of the world cheering on, Iceland’s magical spell shattered after they received a 5-2 thumping from tournament hosts France.
Asked if he was expecting to be everyone’s second-favourite team next year in Russia, Hallgrimsson said shyly: “We hope so. We hope we keep on making people happy.
“Our fans will come in numbers to Russia and they will be the top stars of the World Cup in Russia, they will be happy people.”
He added that he expected about 15 percent of the island nation’s 335,000 population to make the trip.
“I hope that Icelandic fans will come to Russia and stay at least for the three first games, and then I don’t know how long they will stay, but hopefully they will see us through to the end of the tournament.”