Separated by 18 hours, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi could not have had more contrasting games. Where the Portugal captain scored a hat-trick, the Argentina captain couldn’t buy a goal. Where Ronaldo converted a penalty early on and scored a stunning free-kick late against the mighty Spain, Messi failed to score a penalty and sent a free-kick crashing into the wall with minutes left to play against World Cup debutants Iceland. Where the Real Madrid man put aside the tax-fraud controversy that emerged hours before kick-off, the Barcelona man appeared every bit weighed down by the pressure of carrying the bulk of his country’s attacking burden.

The end result – a 3-3 draw for Portugal that felt like a win but a 1-1 draw for Argentina that must feel like a defeat, to kick off their World Cup campaigns.

In terms of building a narrative, this was all too easy. This was the equivalent of a full toss on the leg stump in a small ground, waiting to be smacked for six. This was like asking a eighth grader what’s the chemical formula for Oxygen or what does 10 plus 10 equal to. This has now served up a dream scenario for everyone who has their opinion on who’s the G.O.A.T – where Ronaldo stepped up, Messi looked bogged down.

Of course, it’s not that simple. It never was and it never will be.

If, 18 hours apart, Messi and Ronaldo produced chalk-and-cheese performances, exactly two years and two days apart, Iceland came up with two of the most determined defensive displays you are ever likely to witness at the international arena. On their Euro debut, they frustrated Ronaldo and Portugal – who took the lead, had a whopping 66% possession, and 10 shots on target out of 27 attempts on goal. On their World Cup debut, they frustrated Messi and Argentina – who took the lead, had a whopping 72% possession, and 9 shots on target out of 26 attempts.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the narrative that should dominate the headlines.

Messi frustrated

This is not to say Messi didn’t have a frustrating game. After starting off like a man on a mission, when he created chance after chance in the period between 10 and 20 minutes in the first half, Messi’s threat was largely nullified on the night. The penalty miss with the game there for the taking will haunt him but it shouldn’t entirely come as a surprise, as he has scored only three of the last seven penalties he has taken for club and country.

A 57% conversion rate from the spot is not befitting a player of his quality. Truth be told, Messi seemed to be spurred into life after that miss, dribbling with purpose and creating more chances for himself – an exquisite over-the-head take of a through ball in the 79th minute was jaw-dropping – but try as he might he couldn’t break the Iceland defence down. He huffed, he puffed, but the Iceland rearguard held strong.

To have 11 attempts on the night and not score a single goal, while having a penalty saved, is the type of game Messi would have in his worst nightmares, and it just happened to come true on Saturday in Moscow. And Iceland’s goalkeeper Hannes Por Halldorsson was the monster that came out rushing from the closet with a fantastic save.

Credit to Iceland

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

This Iceland performance was no fluke. If Argentina came into the game expecting anything but a tough afternoon, they were in for a rude shock. In a performance that was exactly the similar to the draw against Portugal two years ago, Iceland showed they are present at the World Cup not just to make up the numbers. They mean business. Their performance, as endearing as it is for the neutrals who can get over the fact that a nation with a population of just over 300,000 (in case you haven’t heard that before), can be immensely frustrating for their opponents.

Allow Ronaldo to explain how:

“It was a little bit frustrating, we tried hard to win the game, Iceland didn’t try anything. They scored a goal, they created two chances in the 90 minutes and otherwise they got every player behind the ball, they put the bus in the net, so it’s difficult when one team don’t try... but Portugal try and play football and try to win the game.”

— Ronaldo, after a 1-1 draw against Iceland in Euro 2016

But, rest assured, Iceland are not here at the World Cup to win style points, just as they weren’t at Euro 2016 to win the trophy. This is a team that has grit and character in as much in abundance as there is snow in their country. This is a team that will go to war as a unit if it means they can walk away from a football match without having their backsides handed to them.

Organised, efficient, and daring when needed, as the first half performance against Argentina in Russia and the second half performance in France showed. It takes immense discipline to do achieve what they have achieved on their first appearances at two of the biggest tournaments in the world.

So, before you get carried away with Messi’s performance on Saturday, comparing it with Ronaldo and his evolved genius that was on display against Spain on Friday, remember the role Iceland had to play in this narrative. They pissed Ronaldo off no end at the Euro (a team with ‘small mentality’ he called them after that draw) and when their time came at the World Cup, they pulled off an encore against Messi.

If you are an Argentina fan, maybe that’s a good omen. You know what happens when a team draws 1-1 against Iceland in the tournament opener.

For now, the Messi-Ronaldo debate can wait. Tonight, join in with the thousands and thousands of Iceland fans, and do the Viking Clap. They have earned it.