Football: Might of Lionel Messi and Argentina hold no fear for upstarts Iceland at the World Cup

Iceland's players celebrate after winning the Fifa World Cup 2018 qualification football match against Kosovo in Reykjavik on Oct 9, 2017.
Iceland's players celebrate after winning the Fifa World Cup 2018 qualification football match against Kosovo in Reykjavik on Oct 9, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

(REUTERS) - Iceland's Burnley winger Johann Berg Gudmundsson is relishing the prospect of facing Argentina's five-time world player of the year Lionel Messi at next year's World Cup in Russia.

Iceland's reward for becoming the smallest nation to qualify for the World Cup was drawing a tough group, featuring Croatia and Nigeria as well as two-time world champions Argentina.

"For a nation like Iceland, the smallest nation by far to reach the World Cup, it's special. We're always going to be in the history books, which is nice," Gudmundsson told the Burnley Express.

"It's still far away, we need to concentrate on club football, but it got a bit more real that we were going to be at the World Cup when the draw was made."

Having grabbed the headlines at Euro 2016, knocking out England in the last 16 before losing to hosts France in the quarter-finals, the island nation will be aiming for a similar performance at the World Cup Finals.

Gudmundsson, who faced Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann of France, said he was excited to get another chance to compete against one of the best players in the world when Iceland face Argentina in their opener on June 16.

"Messi is one of the best, if not the best, who ever touched the ball, so it's going to be nice to test yourself against him," the 27-year-old Gudmundsson added.

"We know it's going to be tough, we're going to be defending 95 per cent of the time but that five per cent when we play a little bit of football, we may nick a goal and surprise a few people.

"We know we're playing Argentina, we have to think about our game, how we're going to stop them and how we're going to make their day difficult."