CAPE TOWN - There is an Icelandic proverb that reads: “Bare is the back of a brotherless man.” In essence, it suggests that an individual has no defence, no protection, unless he has a brother or friend to support him. And doesn’t that sentiment just encapsulate how Iceland plays its football?
After capturing the imagination and many football followers’ hearts at Euro 2016, Iceland continued to punch above their weight in holding a star-studded Argentina to a 1-1 draw on Saturday. They may be the smallest nation to play in the World Cup, but they remain big and courageous in heart.
The game plan is always that most simple and effective football strategy: the team. They’re an organised, structured side, they work extremely hard for each other, and their tactical discipline is just superb.
Too often, teams don’t recognise their limitations; they try to be too clever, have delusions of grandeur, and too obsessed with playing to the crowd (need I mention Bafana Bafana?): in the end, they come unstuck.
But Iceland’s rise in international football is based on a fantastic team ethic; they are better together and, even more importantly, they are always aware of what they can and can’t do.
They stick to what they know, what their strengths are, and perform within that bubble. I remain an unabashed admirer of Iceland’s pragmatic approach to the game.
As for the Lionel Messi watch, the Argentine superstar was always going to struggle to emulate Cristiano Ronaldo’s sensational performance and hat-trick in Portugal’s 3-3 draw with Spain. The question, when Messi plays for his country, always centres around whether he can handle pressure.
Argentina’s drab draw with Iceland, and especially based on the insouciance of Messi’s body language, the critics will be out in force again. But, in fairness to Messi, he can’t do it alone - and, to be brutally honest, there are too many Argentine players, some of them big names in club football, who are too reliant on their captain.
They are always waiting for Messi to make things happen, rather than trying to assist him, or trying to make things happen themselves. For example, Ronaldo may have starred against Spain, but watch that game again and look at the amount of support his Portugal teammates offer, and the amount of work they get through to ensure that he shines. Messi doesn’t have this luxury - because, at the moment, Argentina have too many passengers.
Fathers and sons
Perhaps it’s appropriate that Sunday was Father’s Day as Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel’s magnificent performance in his country’s 1-0 win over Peru on Saturday reminded me so much of his dad, Peter. Euro ’92 will forever be etched in Denmark’s history of sporting achievements.
Against all odds, they won that tournament, knocking out England and France in the group stage, beating the Netherlands on penalties in the semis and taking out Germany 2-0 in the final.
Peter Schmeichel was imposing throughout - and I remember his performance in the ’92 final most vividly when he kept his team in the game with fantastic saves to deny Germany’s Karl-Heinz Riedle, Stefan Reuter and Guido Buchwald.
On Saturday, at Russia 2018, in the face of some relentless and determined attacking from Peru, Kasper produced a similar heroic display that would surely have made his dad proud.