On June 14th, the 2018 World Cup begins in Russia. Expect a month of football filled with controversy due to the use of VAR for the first time in the history of the competition. Without further ado, here is our Group D preview.
Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria
Argentinians are desperate to win the World Cup for the first time since 1986. It would certainly heal the wounds after they lost in the World Cup Final during extra time against Germany four years ago. La Albiceleste have superb attacking options but they are not quite as strong in defence.
Of all the 32 nations competing at the World Cup, it is hard to imagine any of them being as dependent on one player as Argentina are on Lionel Messi. If Messi doesn’t perform, neither do Argentina. If they are to go one better than 2014 and win the World Cup, Messi will have to be on top form to lead his country to victory and finally satisfy an incredibly demanding nation.
Jorge Sampoli became Argentina’s head coach last year and insisted on a contract until 2022. Before Argentina, he also managed another South American national team – Chile. Sampaoli was at the helm when Chile qualified for the 2014 World Cup and made it to the last 16. His Chile side also beat Argentina in the 2015 Copa America Final. Now is the time to bring joy to his home nation instead of inflicting pain upon them.
Performance at 2014 World Cup: Runners-up
The smallest ever nation to qualify for the World Cup (300,000 population), Iceland’s first World Cup appearance will definitely be memorable. After reaching Euro 2016, their first major tournament, Iceland proved they can produce a major shock by beating England to reach the last eight. In quite an open group, Iceland will be hoping they can make it to the last 16 stage.
Gylfi Sigurdsson is Iceland’s playmaker and he is a heavy influence in the team. Iceland need him to be on top form, but Sigurdsson is still trying to recover fully from a season-ending knee injury he suffered in March. If he regains fitness in time, Sigurdsson will be a pivotal part of any success Iceland have in their first World Cup campaign.
Heimir Hallgrimsson and Lars Lagerback were a formidable double act at Euro 2016. Following the tournament, Lagerback stepped down as joint-manager and now Hallgrimsson is in sole charge of the Icelandic national team.
Performance at 2014 World Cup: DNQ (Did Not Qualify)
Getting out of the group stage would be an achievement for this Croatia side. In their last three World Cups, they have exited at the group stage but this could be the year where that changes. Finishing in the top two in Group D is unlikely but not impossible.
Captain Luka Modric is at the heart of Croatia’s best moves. Modric is a key component in Croatia’s midfield and at 32, it is likely to be his last World Cup. It would be disappointing if it ended in yet another group stage exit.
Zlatko Dalic was thrown in at the deep end when he became Croatia’s manager. His first task was to beat Ukraine to secure a play-off place which he managed to do and then Croatia beat Greece 4-1 to secure their place at the 2018 World Cup. Can he lead them out of the group stages for the first time since 1998?
Performance at 2014 World Cup: Group Stage
The Super Eagles have won the Africa Cup of Nations on three occasions but they have never made it past the last 16 of the World Cup. They recently defeated Argentina in a friendly match last November and will be confident of doing so again when they meet in Group D. Getting a result against Argentina would give them a good chance of making it out of the group.
Victor Moses is one of the most senior players in Nigeria’s squad and will be expected to inspire and guide the younger members of the team. While Moses plays at wing-back for Antonio Conte’s Chelsea, it is anticipated that he will play further up the field for Nigeria, as a flying left winger. He will have to create chances from the wing for Nigeria’s talented forwards to convert.
Gernot Rohr is an experienced manager of African countries. Before taking charge of Nigeria, Rohr has also been in charge of Gabon, Niger and Burkina Faso. When he became Nigeria manager in 2016, he inherited an ageing team but he has rejuvenated it and there are plenty of talented youngsters to watch at the World Cup such as Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Ahmed Musa.
Performance at 2014 World Cup: Last 16
Group D Prediction
Featured Image Credit: FIFA.com