As the final whistle blew, Lionel Messi angrily volleyed the ball high into the Moscow air before kneeling down in the centre-circle to be consoled by a steady succession of team-mates. They must have secretly wished that he had struck his penalty with such venom.
Argentina looked and felt for all the world like losers and, while Messi’s 64th minute missed penalty provided just about the ultimate personal contrast to Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick in Sochi against Spain, he might at least find some consolation in his great rival’s story story at Euro 2016.
Portugal had also begun with a stodgy and frustrating 1-1 draw against an easily underestimated Iceland team but would ultimately still leave France victorious by the end of the tournament. It is a lesson that should at least provide some perspective amid the temptation to suggest that Ronaldo has already struck some of knockout blow in any personal World Cup duel with Messi, even if round one has belonged so emphatically to the Portuguese.
Time had almost stood still in Sochi on Friday as Ronaldo drew several deep breaths and settled himself before delivering the free-kick that completed both his hat-trick and further ignited this World Cup. As well as the tame penalty that was saved here by Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson, Messi also wasted a flurry of comparable late opportunities with free-kicks.
“It would have changed the script – obviously it hurts me to have missed the penalty,” said Messi. “We have the bitterness of not being able to take the three points that we deserved. They did not want to play but closed well.”
Even the presence of Diego Maradona excitedly urging his team on and sucking a cigar in one of the executive boxes directly in front of a sign reminding fans about the stadium smoking ban could not sufficiently inspire Argentina. It is early days but, with further tricky group matches to follow against Croatia and Nigeria, you have to wonder if the collective scars from a succession of international near misses are beginning to weigh heavily on this group.