Jose Mourinho has said Lionel Messi is “only human,” after the Argentina star missed a penalty and suffered a frustrating afternoon in his team’s 1-1 draw with World Cup debutants Iceland.
Manchester United boss Mourinho praised the fearless Iceland team after they matched a heavyweight Argentina in their World Cup Group D opening game in Moscow – a game in which Messi missed a second-half penalty with the scores level at 1-1.
Sergio Aguero had opened the scoring for Argentina at Spartak Stadium with a sharp turn and shot on 19 minutes, but Iceland levelled through Alfred Finnbogason just four minutes later - giving the nation their first-ever World Cup goal.
Messi then had his penalty saved by man of the match Hannes Halldorsson.
After the game, the Manchester United manager praised the spirit of the Iceland team.
“I believe it was a fair result, I think Iceland played on their limits. I repeat, when a team play on its limits, you can’t demand more,” Mourinho said.
The Portuguese also felt the team got their tactics spot on in shutting down Argentina at every opportunity and denying Messi in particular the chance to make an impact.
“If I had to choose a word to describe Iceland, it would be compact. I have an image in minute 69, nine men, plus the keeper, in the box… minute 87, 10 players plus the keeper, they were compact.
“Nobody can blame them. No man to man versus Messi… just being compact.
“They reduced the space, they were compact in terms of width and depth, no space behind the last defender, they had one chance, they scored…”
Mourinho said the Argentina team had worked hard, but had come up against an Icelandic wall built on the team’s strengths.
“Of course Argentina had the ball and tried… [but] Messi’s actions were always outside the box, he was trying, dribbling, shots….
“But fantastic commitment [from Iceland], spirit, strength of Iceland. These boys from Iceland, since they were babies they were eating a lot meat on breakfast, they are very strong and fit.
“Their football is perfectly adapted to the way they are.”
Messi’s miserable afternoon in Moscow was complete when he missed a penalty with the score at 1-1, and Mourinho said the spot-kick failure had affected him.
“No, when you miss a penalty in the World Cup, in the moment when the team needs a goal, that affects you…
“He was trying, the one against one [defender], the one against two, the one against three... it was difficult for him, in spite of that he hit a few shots…
“Probably even in superman, even in super players, they are humans, they have feelings and I think the penalty [miss] affected him,” Mourinho added.
Iceland fans had thronged Moscow before the game, giving a pulsating rendition of their legendary Viking hand clap at a central park.
They joined the Argentina fans in creating an electric atmosphere at Spartak Stadium, which is the early frontrunner for the World Cup’s most pulsating venue.
Argentina next face Croatia in Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday, while the Viking party rolls on to Volgograd, where they face Nigeria on Friday.