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Group D Preview & Tips: Argentina favourites to emerge from 'Group of Death'
Argentina and Lionel Messi are favoured to win Group D, but Croatia, Nigeria and Iceland are all capable of reaching the knockout stage
Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates after defeating Ecuador to qualify for the 2018 World Cup (Juan Ruiz/AFP/Getty Images)
2018 World Cup Group D Preview & Tips
Group D has been labelled the 'Group of Death' with Argentina expected to qualify and little separating Croatia, Nigeria and Iceland. The pressure on Lionel Messi and his quest to join Maradona as an Argentine World Cup winner will be immense but his first task will be leading the Albiceleste out of a tricky group.
Argentina have faced the same dilemma for many years which is an overloaded attack and an uninspiring defence, but they did make the final at Brazil 2014 and have one of the greatest footballers of all time on their team. The Albiceleste struggled their way through South American qualification, only securing their ticket to Russia in the final match with a 3-1 win in Ecuador courtesy of a Messi hat-trick.
New manager Jorge Sampaoli recently lamented the need to play friendlies as he would prefer training in order to transmit his fast-paced, high pressing and attacking approach to the squad. A recent 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Spain is a big concern despite Messi missing the match through injury. Argentina are priced around 1.70 to win Group D but will need to be wary of tricky and unpredictable opponents.
The Argentine attack is enviable and devastating with Sampaoli facing a tough selection challenge with the likes of Messi, Sergio Agüero, Gonzalo Higuaín, Paulo Dybala and Mauro Icardi all in contention. The defensive options leave a lot to be desired however, with the back line in the drubbing against Spain comprising of Nicolás Otamendi, Marcos Rojo, Nicolás Tagliafico and Fabricio Bustos.
Croatia will be competing in their 5th World Cup with their best performance coming in their debut at France 1998 where they finished 3rd. Manager Zlatko Dalić has been in charge for five games after Ante Čačić was sacked in October, rescuing the campaign and steering his nation to Russia with a play-off victory against Greece.
Croatia underperformed under Čačić but if Dalić can put the talented pieces together with limited preparation time they should be able to qualify for the knockout rounds. Croatia have a top quality midfield consisting of Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Ivan Rakitic while Ivan Perisic, Andrej Kramaric and Mario Mandzukic provide offensive threat.
An opening game against Nigeria is a perfect opportunity to get off to a winning start before facing Argentina and Iceland. Croatia will be an entertaining side to watch this summer and should have enough quality to emerge from Group D, but there must be serious doubts with a new manager who is inexperienced on the international stage.
Nigeria qualified for their 6th World Cup after going undefeated in their group which included Zambia, Cameroon and Algeria. The Super Eagles have a proud record at the World Cup, reaching the Round of 16 on three occasions including Brazil 2014 where they were knocked out by France. German manager Gernot Rohr has done well despite an underwhelming resume.
Nigeria have many former and current Premier League players in their ranks including Ola Aina, John Mikel Obi, Wilfred Ndidi, Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi, Ahmed Musa, Odion Ighalo and Kelechi Iheanacho. Nigeria have been growing in confidence and will fancy their chances of an upset, especially after a 4-2 friendly win against Argentina in Russia last November.
Nigeria have an array of fast and physical players and are likely to have the youngest team in Russia. Excitement should be guaranteed and the Super Eagles’ opening game against Croatia will go a long way to deciding their World Cup fate. Concerns exist with the absence of a top class goalkeeper and a defence which lacks experience at the highest level.
Iceland reached Russia 2018 as the smallest nation ever to qualify for a World Cup with a population of just 334,000. The achievement comes after Iceland qualified for their first ever major tournament at the 2016 European Championships, famously beating England 2-1 before losing 5-2 against France in the quarter-finals.
Iceland qualified for their first World Cup in style, finishing top of their group which included Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey. Managed by Heimir Hallgrímsson since 2013, the team known as Our Boys are entertaining and incredibly hard to beat, playing with passion and a collective work ethic that allows them to continually win against the odds.
Gylfi Sigurdsson is the leader and most influential member of the team followed by Ragnar Sigurdsson, Aron Gunnarsson and Johann Gudmundsson. The Icelandic supporters are a joy to watch and many neutral fans will be hoping Our Boys can surprise in Russia. Iceland’s opening game against Argentina could define their tournament.
Group D is incredibly hard to predict. Argentina are the obvious choice to win the group at 1.70 and a comfortable win against Iceland in their opening game will set them up nicely. The three remaining nations all have flaws that can be exploited which makes Nigeria a decent shout to qualify at 3.75.
Win Group D: Argentina at 1.70
Qualify from Group D: Nigeria at 3.75