It was always going to be a big test for Iceland: the long distance travel, the different time zone, the tough opponent. But to lose 3-0 to Mexico as part of a World Cup tune-up tour in front of 68,917 fans at Levi’s Stadium was very disappointing.
Head coach Heimir Hallgrimsson, who looked forward to the match as a way to prepare for Iceland’s opening game against Argentina in this summer’s World Cup, found it hard to be positive following the game, especially given the scoreline.
“They outsmarted us in a way,” Hallgrimsson said. “They used their chances better than we did. I think it showed that they have more experience in games like these, and they deserved to win. Tactically they were good, even though we got some really good chances to score against them. Congratulations to Mexico for the win, 3-0 in my opinion is too big a number, congratulations to them on a good performance, and especially the result.”
Hallgrimsson took advantage of the friendly to play some younger players, hoping to gain a better understanding of how they might fit in his World Cup roster. And for the most part, everyone played very well from the opening whistle, even creating a golden scoring opportunity 25 minutes in that required a smart save by Mexico goalkeeper Jesus Corona.
They had another promising attack ten minutes later that fizzled out just as it seemed to be building up steam. Iceland, for the better part of the opening half hour of the game, stood toe-to-toe with Mexico, even looking like the better team at times despite giving up significant spells of possession. The deserved to take the lead, but that endeavor was soon turned on its head.
”In the first half we played brilliantly, especially defensive-wise,” Hallgrimsson said, “and the free kick comes when we have a really good attack with five players in the box and we lose the ball from dribbling instead of shooting or crossing or whatever. We have five players in the box, lose possession, they have a counterattack, and get a free kick and score from that.”
Marco Fabian scored on a sublime free kick in the 37th minute from just outside the area after Iceland committed a tough foul as they scrambled to defend. It was a fantastic goal, but the opportunity should never have presented itself, not if Iceland had stayed to form and not strayed from their coach’s tactical instructions.
“We have to be realistic,” Hallgrimsson said. “We are not the best possession team in the world. When taking a long time in the box, playing the ball, dribbling the ball, and losing it, we are vulnerable at the back. Maybe this is one of the questions for the game against Argentina is that we cannot be something else than what we are. We know exactly what we are about, what out identity is, and we should play according to that. And that is the questions we are asking, can all the players we are taking play according to our identity.”
Conceding the foul and allowing Mexico to take a lead they would not surrender certainly did not sit well with the coach, and he promises to take the performance Friday night into consideration as he moves ahead with his World Cup preparations. And despite the atmosphere created by the sold-out Levi’s Stadium crowd, nearly all cheering for Mexico, he did not see that as a factor in the result.”
“We are used to playing in venues like these, so it shouldn’t be anything that would result in us playing worse,” Hallgrimsson said. “In an atmosphere like today, I love it. We knew there weren’t going to be many supporters of the Iceland team. There were more Mexicans in the stadium than we have Icelanders in Iceland. These are the kind of venues every footballer likes to play in, in front of a loud crowd, even if they were supporting Mexico.”
Iceland continues its U.S. tour with a stop at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey this Tuesday for a friendly against another World Cup qualifier, Peru. It will be another test for his team, but one in which Hallgrimsson hopes the lessons learned from the loss to Mexico will give them an edge moving forward.
“Allowing the third goal was really depressing,” Hallgrimsson said. “I think if it finishes 2-0, we would have said we had a good performance against a really good team, but 3-0, that looks bad, especially for a team that does not concede goals very often. We kept momentum and we had our chances when it was 0-0, and we had chances when it was 1-0 Mexico. We never gave up, and we never lost our heads.”