Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the USA national team for ESPN FC.
The script was laid out perfectly, Lionel Messi was over the ball, and he would surely score to give his side the win and further cement his legacy as the greatest of all time.
In the past 24 hours, that dynamic has reached a feeding frenzy. There would be no upping of the ante, however, as the Barcelona missed a penalty in a disappointing 1-1 draw. Hannes Thor Halldorsson prevented Messi from scoring his first goal at the 2018 World Cup.
Ronaldo in action against Iceland.
The numbers add to the pair's contrasting fortunes.
Analytics firm Opta Sports pointed out that Messi had 11 attempted shots to Ronaldo's four in their opening games in Russian Federation, highlighting the efficiency of the Portugal forward. The ball was worked to Bjarnason but he couldn't keep his composure and directed his shot wide from close range.
Rurik Gislason came on for the injured Johann Berg Gudmundsson in an enforced Iceland change, and Messi curled a free kick over as he tried to make amends for his failure to score from the spot. Halldorsson wasn't feeling almost as generous, delivering a man-of-the-match performance that included six saves, some quite spectacular.
Iceland is a similarly robust obstacle, with height and power in aerial challenges. Not so Iceland, the men of volcanic rock.
Will we see the Iceland thunderclap in the knockout stages?
"When we went to France, we didn't really know what we were getting into", he said of the campaign, in which Iceland beat England and Austria in addition to drawing with Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal.
"If we go one-on-one (with a team like Argentina) you don't have to ask who's going to win that game".
In the final 10 minutes, Messi stroked a shot wide left and, with a pocket of space, drove a 20-yard bid off a teammate in the penalty area.
Ronaldo puffed out his cheeks, hitched up his shorts and arrowed his set-piece into the net to seal his 51st career hat-trick and pull Portugal level at 3-3.
But one gets the sense that Ronaldo has some separation from his longtime rival, especially at global level. Messi had been unusually poor in this game up until this with Iceland doing a good job of keeping him quiet. They also created very decent opportunities and showed that they have what it takes to hurt any caliber of opposition they face. On the surface at least, there is no reason he and the Albiceleste can't.
Argentina must regroup before facing Croatia on Nizhny Novgorod on June 21, while Iceland face Nigeria in Volgograd on June 22. On Saturday there seemed to be no letup. Messi stepped up to take the resulting penalty but nothing came of it.
"We have to move on".
Despite showing promise going forward, left-back Nicolas Tagliafico was making just his fifth worldwide start and along with the centre-backs, was part of a defence that shipped six goals in a friendly against Spain in March.
It's now on Messi to pick himself up, regardless of what Ronaldo does next.