With the FIFA World Cup set to kick off soon in Russia, we bring you the lowdown of Group D, which comprises of Argentina, Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria.
The grandest competition in world football is set to take centre-stage in June in Russia, with the best footballing nations fighting it out to be crowned the world champions. We here take a look at Group D, which comprises of 2014 runners-up Argentina, Croatia, underdogs Iceland and the African hope, Nigeria.
Argentina will be looking to go one better than their 2014 finish, where their hearts were broken by an extra time winner from Mario Gotze. Iceland will look to eke into the qualification place, but must battle Nigeria, Argentina and Croatia to land a spot in the knockout phase. Here’s an overview of the group.
Group D – Argentina, Croatia, Iceland, Nigeria
June 16: Argentina vs Iceland; Croatia vs Nigeria
June 21: Argentina vs Croatia
June 22: Nigeria vs Iceland
June 26: Nigeria vs Argentina; Iceland vs Croatia
The 2014 runners-up barely scraped through the CONMEBOL qualifiers, with Lionel Messi weaving his magical foot once again for the South American giants. There has been a few changes put in place by manager Jorge Sampaoli after he took over from Edgardo Bauza.
One worrying sign is the constant change of formations, which may hint towards the fact that Sampaoli is yet to fully know his best eleven. The selection for the World Cup has also not been without its fair share of drama. Sergio Romero was included in the list, but was later replaced after an injury that the goalkeeper is adamant was not one that would keep him out of the World Cup and that he was excluded because of other reasons.
With Romero out of the squad, Sampaoli has three goalkeepers at his disposal who have a combined nine senior appearances for Argentina, which could be a problem in clutch situations like penalty shutouts.
The attack looks stacked despite Sampaoli’s decision to exclude Mauro Icardi from the World Cup squad while the midfield also possesses guile, experience and a sprinkle of youth to balance things out. With experience available in abundance in defence for Sampaoli, we can expect Argentina to go far in the competition. The goalkeeping area though, does raise some questions.
Key Player(s): Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano
The players don’t come much bigger than Lionel Messi and there aren’t any events grander than the World Cup. The Argentine lead the nation into the World Cup with his hat-trick in the last game of the CONMEBOL qualifiers and he will be hoping to go one better than what he did in the 2014 World Cup.
After finishing third in the 1998 edition, Croatia have failed to find a footing in the World Cup, failing to clear the group stage in any of the editions that have followed. There are lot of familiar faces from the 2014 edition within the squad and they will be led by the Real Madrid creative maestro Luka Modric.
The European side’s midfield is their biggest weapon and on paper, it is one of the most stacked midfields that are headed to Russia. But, manager Zlatko Dalic will be looking to find the right balance in defence and attack in order to make Croatia a well rounded unit and one to fear.
Croatia were brilliant defensively in the qualification phase in Europe, leaking just 4 goals in the group stage in 10 games. But, 1-0 defeats against Turkey and Iceland saw them have to play Greece for a spot at the World Cup. While Croatia did ace the two-legged tie over Greece, their inability to break down a structured defence is something that Dalic would be looking to correct before the start of the World Cup.
Croatia have been handed a tricky group, but the squad will be pumped to make a mark, especially with the 2018 World Cup likely to serve as the swansong for stalwarts like Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic, Danijel Subasic and Vedran Corluka.
Key Player(s): Luka Modric, Danijel Subasic, Mario Mandzukic
Modric has gotten his hands on almost every trophy at club level. So, at the age of 32, the Real Madrid midfielder will be looking to have a successful run at the World Cup with Croatia as this is very likely to be his last, considering his age.
Iceland’s dream of a run at the Euros was not just a one-time thing and it has been established by the nation’s results after. Not only did they qualify for the World Cup for the first time in their history, they topped their group – a group that consisted of Ukraine, Croatia and Turkey among others.
Iceland reached the quarter-finals in their first ever appearances at the European Championships – a run that included wins over Austria and England while they registered a draw against Portugal and managed to get two past hosts France in their quarter-final defeat.
As far as personnel go, there aren’t many flashy players or names that catch the eye except Gylfi Sigurdsson. But, the squad is a well-knit unit and the chemistry reflects on the football field.
Iceland’s squad for the World Cup has the right amount of experience with youthful options also available at Heimir Hallgrimsson’s disposal, making the nation one of the dark horses for not just the group but also as a contender to go far in the event.
Key Player(s): Gylfi Sigurdsson; Aron Gunnarsson
Gylfi Sigurdsson’s set-piece prowess will be key to Iceland’s ability to upset teams, break down the opposition or create chances against a dominant nation. But, it will be captain Aron Gunnarsson, who will be tasked with the duty of keeping the ball in continuous motion and linking up the build-up play.
Nigeria already equalled their best-ever finish in the World Cup in 2014 by reaching the Round of 16 stage. But, with the golden generation coming through, the Super Eagles have one of the most underrated squads and can do serious damage in Russia.
The squad is full of players with Premier League experience, which means they are unlikely to be fazed by the big stage. Gernot Rohr has an abundance of riches at his disposal at every position, except the goalkeeping department, which, like Argentina, could be the reason for their downfall at the World Cup.
The chemistry within the team is also adequate, with a fair portion of the players having played with each other for a while now. While the midfield is equally strong, Nigeria’s attack has not been this impressive for some time.
The attack possesses pace from the likes of Alex Iwobi and Ahmed Musa along with the precision and finishing of Odion Ighalo and Kelechi Iheanacho. Nigeria’s squad is a very young one and the generation will be eager to showcase their potential in Russia.
Key Player(s): Ahmed Musa, Wilfred Ndidi
Incidentally, Musa is the highest scoring player for the nation to be in the squad and the forward will be keen to prove his Leicester City disaster was a mere blip. On his day, Musa can run the best of defences ragged and Rohr will be counting on the speedster to make his mark.
Ndidi though, is likely to be more instrumental than Musa. Part of the same Leicester squad, Ndidi grew in stature with each passing match and his consistency was one of the things that shined through. While he will be responsible for keeping things tight in midfield, it’s his ability to trouble the opposition goal from a range that will come in handy to create chances on goal against tight defences.
Nations to Progress: Nigeria, Argentina
As bizarre as it may sound, we predict Nigeria to top Group D, with the youthful squad likely to lay down a marker against the other nations. According to our predictions, Argentina and Nigeria are likely to be confirmed of their place in the knockout stage by the time they meet each other to decide who goes through in first place.
And with the problems that Argentina have often faced, we expect Nigeria to come out ahead, which will be an upset in itself as it could mean a potential matchup of two big teams in the Round of 16, with Argentina finishing second.