June 16, 2018 / 6:14 PM / 3 months ago

Iceland's 'zombie film' keeper outwits Messi spot kick

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Hannes Halldorsson used to make zombie films for a living but it was watching videos that let Iceland’s goalkeeper outwit Lionel Messi and save a penalty on Saturday that gave his side a shock World Cup point.

Soccer Football - World Cup - Group D - Argentina vs Iceland - Spartak Stadium, Moscow, Russia - June 16, 2018 Iceland's Hannes Por Halldorsson saves a penalty taken by Argentina's Lionel Messi REUTERS/Albert Gea

“I did my homework,” the 34-year-old who plays in the Danish league told reporters after stopping a 64th-minute spot kick that pegged Argentina to a 1-1 draw and added to a miserable run of four misses from seven this past season for Messi.

“I looked at a lot of penalties by Messi and I also looked at how I had been behaving in the last penalties. So I tried to get into their mindset, how they would be thinking about me.”

“I had a good feeling it would go this way today,” he said of his dive to his right to stop Messi’s uninspired effort.

Soccer Football - World Cup - Group D - Argentina vs Iceland - Spartak Stadium, Moscow, Russia - June 16, 2018 Iceland's Hannes Por Halldorsson in action REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

With the five-times world player of the year stepping up to restore Argentina’s lead in the Group D opener, tiny Iceland’s first ever appearance at the World Cup finals, Halldorsson admitted that he felt the pressure.

“For me, as a goalkeeper from little Iceland and at the first game at a World Cup, to face the best player in the world at a penalty is,” — he gave a long pause — “a big moment.”

“It’s a dream come true to save a penalty, especially if it helps us get a big point,” he added, as Iceland now aim to reach the next round from a group also featuring Croatia and Nigeria.

Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli refused to blame Messi, who failed to find the net with 11 shots. His penalty added to a run that started with a miss for Barcelona in La Liga last August.

It was a contrast to long-time rival Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid, whose hat-trick in Portugal’s 3-3 draw with Spain on Friday included a penalty and a free kick. Ronaldo was on Halldorsson’s mind for other reasons on Saturday, however, when asked why Icelanders celebrated so much when they only drew.

Slideshow (5 Images)

“Are you Cristiano Ronaldo’s uncle?” he asked the reporter — Ronaldo dismissed Iceland as “small minded” when they cheered a 1-1 draw with Portugal in their first match at Euro 2016.

“We were playing against one of the best teams in the world, against one of the best players in the world,” said Halldorsson, who also stopped a dangerous Cristian Pavon curler near the end and was named man of the match. “So, yes, we celebrated.”

Coach Heimir Hallgrimsson promised that more is to come. Satisfied at denying Argentina no space despite 72-percent possession, he even mused on missed chances that might have given victory.

But with trademark dark humor, the part-time coach and full-time dentist, conceded: “We wanted to use spaces behind them — but it’s difficult when you don’t have the ball.”

Croatia and Nigeria will have to watch out, though.

“People say we celebrate when we won a point,” he said. “But wait and see how we celebrate when we’ve won a game.”

Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Christian Radnedge

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