When the final whistle blew, Lionel Messi angrily kicked away the ball like it was poison and tore off his captain’s armband as though it was cursed.
A superstar of football knocked off his pedestal at the World Cup.
By a bunch of guys from Iceland. Iceland. Population 350,000.
Back on the volcanic, wind-swept island bashed by Arctic seas, in winters to come when storms are blowing and the sun is on strike, Icelanders will draw warmth from the memory of the 1-1 draw in this, their first-ever World Cup match. They and the team celebrated the result like a victory.
And rightfully so.
By neutralising two-time World Cup winner Argentina, who had Messi on the field, a cigar-puffing Diego Maradona watching from the VIP seats and the pope on its side, Iceland blazed a trail for small countries and territories everywhere.
Luxembourg, Malta, Hong Kong, Scotland and the like, are you paying attention? Because this was no fluke. It was Iceland’s reward for two decades of thought, investment and ambition lavished on football, so all Icelandic boys and girls who want to play now have an abundance of pitches and qualified coaches.
Although Iceland has a pool of just 100 or so full-time professionals to draw from, its team is only getting better and growing in stature, no longer just a cute story of overachievement but a bona fide outfit to be reckoned with.
First was Cristiano Ronaldo, sulky and frustrated after Iceland restricted his Portugal to a 1-1 draw at the European Championships in 2016.
And now Messi, the latest star extinguished by a blanket of sturdy Icelandic defending, physicality, organisation, teamwork and self-sacrifice.
He had a penalty saved. He fired shots wide. Iceland’s players stuck to him like chewing gum on a shoe. When two or three of them followed his runs, others stepped into the gaps he opened in Iceland’s defence, plugging them.