I quit football at 20, returned to save a Lionel Messi World Cup penalty and knock England out of Euro 2016 – now I direct films

Most goalkeepers can only dream of saving a Lionel Messi penalty at the World Cup, not Hannes Thor Halldorsson.

Halldorsson has a story in football that Hollywood would love to get their hands on but the goalkeeper would rather stand behind the camera than star in front of it.

Iceland goalkeeper Halldorsson was the hero against Argentina
Iceland goalkeeper Halldorsson was the hero against Argentina

The Icelandic shot-stopper is not your average footballer, who despite saving a penalty against Messi in the World Cup, does not see the sport as his one true love.

He was the only goalkeeper to save one of his penalties in an international tournament until Poland star Wojciech Szczesny did so at the 2022 World Cup.

But when the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner stepped up 12 yards from the Iceland goalkeeper, not even he could have imagined standing over him triumphant.

Speaking to talkSPORT in 2018, Halldorsson said: “It was a best case scenario for me as a goalkeeper going into the first game ever for Iceland at a World Cup and saving a penalty against the best player in the world [Lionel Messi].”

This was Iceland’s biggest moment in their footballing history, their first-ever World Cup match and facing one of the favourites in Argentina.

The gulf between the two nations could not have been wider, even geographically on the opposite sides of the world, but when they met at the 2018 World Cup in Moscow, they stood as equals.

Halldorsson became the first goalkeeper to save a penalty from Messi
Halldorsson became the first goalkeeper to save a penalty from Messi

And that is largely down to Halldorsson, who was named man of the match as Iceland held Argentina to a 1-1 draw, but like every film’s hero, these ultimate highs are often surrounded by a struggle.

In 2004, 14 years before his match-saving penalty against Messi, a 20-year-old Halldorsson retired from football after experiencing heartbreak when given a golden chance to become a legend for his local club Leiknir.

Gunning for promotion to the second tier of Icelandic football, Halldorsson messed up a goal kick in a humongous error that lost them the match and ended their chances of promotion which led to him being released by his boyhood club.

“We were top of the league going for promotion to the second-highest league in Iceland for the first time,” he told the Daily Star.

“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.”

Halldorsson is a film director now after retiring from football
Halldorsson is a film director now after retiring from football

In one of life’s sliding doors moments, that Messi would learn rue, Halldorsson could have gone full-time with film company Sagafilm, where he was already an apprentice.

It was always Halldorsson’s true ambition to become a film director, something he had dreamed of since before he was a teenager.

He told Sports Illustrated in 2013: “When you train in football in Iceland it doesn’t consume you and I grew up in a lower league that isn’t full-time.

“But film? I was 12 years old when I started making my first short film. It was a small action comedy [I made] with a group of friends–I wasn’t the action hero.

“I made the film in 1996. It was very a simple technique. I managed to make it with a VCR and a video camera. It was like Superman but we called called it Swimming Man. He was wearing a stupid outfit.”

Halldorsson would return to football with short stints across Iceland for the likes of Afturelding, Stjarnan and KR but he would dedicate more of his time to film directing.

Halldorsson was always desperate to make it in film
Halldorsson was always desperate to make it in film
Halldorsson is an Icelandic legend
Halldorsson is an Icelandic legend

He directed Iceland’s 2012 Eurovision Song Contest and a series of adverts for the national football team ahead of major tournaments.

The following year Haldorsson got his big break – in football – after going professional and joining Norwegian side Sandnes Ulf and went on to star in one of England’s darkest days – elimination to Iceland at Euro 2016.

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

“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.”

Haldorsson kept Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling at bay as England fell to a 2-1 defeat to the Nordic island, and that was a wrap for Roy Hodgson.

Halldorsson proved pivotal in Iceland’s famous win over England
Halldorsson proved pivotal in Iceland’s famous win over England
Iceland triumphed against all odds against England
Iceland triumphed against all odds against England

In the sequel, two years later, Haldorsson had his greatest moment as he dived right to deny Messi at the World Cup.

A dream for any goalkeeper – but not this one – who would realise his true aspiration in life when years later, he released his directional film debut: Cop Secret.

And even that was against the odds, battling a pandemic and juggling life on the pitch, but Haldorsson took inspiration for his action comedy from British film Hot Fuzz, admitting: “I calculated that our budget was 0.03 per cent of the latest Fast and Furious movie.

Cop Secret is Halldorsson’s film directional debut
Cop Secret is Halldorsson’s film directional debut
Halldorsson has realised his dream as a film director and a footballer
Halldorsson has realised his dream as a film director and a footballer

“Maybe The Rock’s trailer cost the same amount as our whole movie.”

The film, which was released in 2021, earned rave reviews and a sequel is in the pipeline after Haldorsson hung up the gloves in 2022 at the age of 37.

“The buzz of playing in a big match is unbelievable, but sitting in a theatre and watching a film you’ve made come together, I’d say it’s a similar feeling.”

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