Unexpected new career of the only keeper to save a Messi penalty at a World Cup

There's an old footballing cliche: "You couldn’t write a script like this!"

While that phrase, like most football cliches, divides opinions, there's no doubt there's a footballing phrase more suited to the career of Hannes Thor Halldorsson.

"It’s like a really unbelievable sports story, you would read the script, and you would just throw it away because it’s too unbelievable," Halldorsson told Daily Star Sport when reflecting on his career.

And it's hard to disagree.

Halldorsson's rise to the top of world football, to deny Lionel Messi from 12 yards, seems to have jumped straight from the pages of a fiction novel.

For the first time in the better part of a decade, Halldorsson wasn't stood between the sticks for the Icelandic national team last week.

Instead, Halldorsson, who announced his international retirement last month, was at the London Film Festival to promote his feature film Cop Secret.

"I’ve told my story a lot in Iceland, I think people are actually getting sick of it," Halldorsson joked.

"This story about being a footballer and a filmmaker, quitting football, being injured when I was young, working my way up through the leagues and ending up saving a penalty from the best player in the world."

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Cop Secret is Halldorsson's first feature film, but it isn't the first time the 37-year-old has dabbled with filmmaking.

"I’ve been doing commercials for most of my [footballing] career because that is something can I get merge with my football life easily.

"It’s shorter periods, and my schedule isn’t as hectic."

Halldorsson also directed Iceland's 2012 Eurovision Song Contest entry as well as adverts for the national team ahead of major tournaments.

Halldorsson had first started filmmaking as a teenager when his football career had taken a back seat.

"I had been injured for a few years with my shoulder; I had dislocated it snowboarding as a teenager – from 14-19 – I didn’t really play any football through my youth or develop as a player.

"But I managed to come back at around 20, and I played this season with my local club Leiknir Reykjavik."

At this point, Halldorsson had graduated from school, and he had taken up a job at Sagafilm, an Icelandic film company.

Halldorsson almost quit football to work at Sagafilm full time after the infamous 'Leiknir-kick'.

"How did you know about that," he joked, "I f***** it up."

Halldorsson had spent the season warming the bench, where warming the bench is a physical activity in the Arctic weather.

But after the first-choice keeper was sent off, he was handed a golden opportunity.

"We were top of the league going for promotion to the second-highest league in Iceland for the first time.

"And so I played the game, and I f***** it up myself, with a bad goal kick at the end of the game.

"I was so depressed, and my football career was so full of obstacles, I decided enough was enough."

So Halldorsson hung up his boots, but to the annoyance of Messi and England, Halldorsson was coaxed back into football when Leiknir needed a goalkeeper in training.

As part of Iceland's Euro 2016 team, Halldorsson was a key factor in one of English football's most embarrassing days.

"I would say it’s the highlight of my life, obviously, I get goosebumps now just talking about it.

"Icelanders are very enthusiastic about English football, and there had always been this talk about when will Iceland get England.

"We had never been to the finals before, and we had just had to hope to get lucky in qualifying."

Halldorsson continued: "I think we played our best game of the tournament, maybe because the pressure was off.

"All the pressure in the world was defiantly on the England players, and they had everything to lose because it would be a huge embarrassment [for England].

"I think once the game started and when things started to fall our way, especially with the equaliser.

"I think the tension just grew and the England teams started to get really nervous that this might actually happen."

Wayne Rooney had fired England ahead from the penalty spot, the only mistake Halldorsson made all afternoon.

But Roy Hodgson's Three Lions soon found themselves behind as Ragnar Sigurdsson and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson delivered a fatal double blow to the English side.

"Harry Kane had one chance, and it was saveable, but if it had gone one or two meters to the left then he would have scored, and we would not be talking about that game," Halldorsson recalled

"It’s a game of margins is football."

And the biggest margin that defines Halldorsson's career came two years later at the World Cup.

"If you go into a game like that, you think about things; you think about a dream scenario.

"Obviously, for a goalkeeper that would be saving a penalty for Lionel Messi, but it’s so unlikely to happen it’s like winning the lottery."

It was Iceland's first game in the World Cup, a country with roughly the same population as Leeds, and in their maiden voyage, they held the two-time world champions to a draw.

"I had decided the night before where I was going to go.

"We looked at a lot of penalties, and the last penalty that he took before this one was in the same spot, and he scored but the goalkeeper almost saved it.

"We talked about it a lot, tried to guess what he would do, and this was our guess.

"It was a good guess."

The Icelandic fairytale may be over for Halldorsson, but the second chapter in his life is just starting.

Cop Secret had its UK premiere at LFF on October 6th.

Cop Secret is about a cop in denial of his sexuality, falls in love with his new partner, while investigating a string of bank break-ins.

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