MOSCOW: The imposing figure of Spartacus overlooking the stadium of Spartak Moscow felt like an ominous sign for Messi and Co. The vicinity was flooded with Messi shirts - the favourite of the neutrals and the uninitiated - and the stage was set for the Argentine's crowd-pleasing trickery. Or will the burden of the Albiceleste shirt prove too much again for the 'slave' to the masses? The dejected stooped figure of Leo, head down in disappointment, had the tell-tale signs. Messi could not break his way past the Ice barrier, and when he got the chance, he blew it. Cue hands on head, "Hu Hu...!"


There was a blow in the crowds also. One word against Messi, and the punches came flying. While the two Argentine fans had to be separated, nothing could pull apart the blue-and-white from silent despair.


Perhaps, Spartacus had delivered his muted judgement. The 25-metre high monument, it seems, represents the revolutionary history of Spartak Moscow, it symbolises the underdog mentality of the people's club.

Fittingly, it was the small Viking population in the stands that stole the attention in the end. And the World Cup first-timers, who had charmed Europe two years before, were at it again. Iceland are the true underdogs, working within their limitations but pushing themselves to the edge as 'sons'. "You go out and do everything, you just sacrifice yourself for the team," Birgir Saevarsson, who worked as a salt packer at a Reykjavik warehouse, said.

A fan in full Icelandic attire, taking a long-diverted walk out from the gates to the metro, shouted "Iceland won 1-1".
For the fancied Argentines, it must have felt like a loss.

"Just go in at 210 percent, like a crazy man." Goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson, who was the hero of the day for saving Messi's penalty, followed this maxim. The 34-year-old who directed the video for his country's 2012 Eurovision song contest changed the script of the game. The nation of 340,000, of which one-tenth must have landed in Russia, dreams on.

A fan in full Icelandic attire, taking a long-diverted walk out from the gates to the metro, shouted "Iceland won 1-1".

So true. For the fancied Argentines, it must have felt like a loss. Croatia and Nigeria to go, and you can guess which team is looking forward with a mountain on their shoulders and which one with optimistic light-headedness.

In the area, Americans in Messi jerseys switched allegiances according to the tempo of the match. "Argentina have taken over everything except the field," one said, laughing.


At the end, the Viking clap reverberated around the Spartak Stadium as the players thanked their 'neighbours' for making the journey. Coach Heimir Hallgrimsson, a practising dentist, is known to go pub crawling hours before home matches, and he discusses team tactics with the common people - as common as him, of course. "There is a sense of ownership of the team because there is a certain closeness. We know each other more than other players or fans," the coach told the Washington Post recently.

On Sunday, the blues checked out and in came a sea of white & black and green & sombreros. Over to the German and Mexican fans now. 'Del Tequila' taunted an American called Lincoln, singing 'PAN-AMA PAN-AMA' to his face. The race is on.

(The writer was in Moscow on the invitation of Coca-Cola. This article was originally published on Times of India online edition on 18th June)