World Cup Preview: Group D
Group D of this summer’s competition is host to four exciting teams and possibly the greatest kit of the World Cup. Argentina, Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria will battle it out for a spot in the knockout stages.
Each team has proven that they are capable of holding their own in their respective conferences and (although a cliché) it looks as if any of the four teams could reach at least the last 16. Bryce Donaldson previews.
Runners-up in Brazil in 2014, Argentina will undoubtedly be out for revenge against European counterparts. They are favourites to win the group but don’t be surprised to see them progress much further than that.
From days past of Batistuta and Maradona to the present, Argentina’s attacking talent has never been doubted. Global superstar Lionel Messi is joined by Gonzalo Higuaín, Paulo Dybala and Sergio Aguero to lead the front line in Russia. All of whom scored over 20 goals last season.
One shock emission from the forwards is Inter Milan’s Mauro Icardi. The striker found the back of the net 29 times in the Serie A alone last season but this was not enough to convince Jorge Sampaoli to include him in the 23 man squad. If this is the form of a striker that didn’t make the cut then we should expect Argentina to have some of the strongest firepower on display.
Most of Argentina’s midfield is spread out across Europe’s top leagues. With veterans such as Ever Banega mixed in with unpredictable youngsters such as Giovanni Lo Celso it could prove to be winning formula in linking the defence and attack.
Centre-backs Nicholas Otamendi and Marcos Rojo both coming off the back of strong campaigns in Manchester and with Federico Fazio reaching the Champions League semi-finals with Roma, a back three could prove hard to get around.
Argentina’s real problem will be finding someone they can rely on in-between the sticks. Both Sergio Romero and Willy Caballero have struggled for regular game time this season and this could prove troublesome up against some of the best and most ruthless goal scorers in the world.
Croatia’s road to the world cup was far from smooth, leaving it until the last match to seal their spot in the tournament with a 2-0 win over Ukraine.
That said, few teams in Russia will be able to boast more individual talent in middle of the park. The likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic have all found major success at club level but are yet to replicate it on an international stage.
Croatia will also be hoping that Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic are goal hungry as on their day they are more than capable of putting a few past any keeper.
Mandzukic has found himself behind in the pecking order at Juventus behind group rivals Higuaín and Dybala but still managed to score a respectable 10 times as well as laying off four assists. He will also have Andrej Kramaric in support who has had significantly more success in the Bundesliga since leaving Leicester City.
Many will remember Perisic from his rather questionable haircut battle with Paul Pogba and electrifying performances down the left flank in the 2016 Euros. His late winner against Spain stunned the defending champions and helped seal Croatia’s top spot in the group that year.
They face off against Nigeria in their first game and if they get a result they could build up confidence and have the potential to challenge others in the group.
They are perhaps best known for their thunder clap and before 2016 most in the footballing world would have struggled to name even half of their starting 11. However after a tremendous Euro campaign which saw them reach the Quarter-finals (beating England in the process) Iceland have cemented themselves in the hearts of many European football fans. They have continued to defy the odds as the island of roughly 300,000 people is the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup.
Despite no exceptional talent in the squad they will again be relying on team spirit and strength to carry them through their matches as the underdog.
Iceland are not to be written off though. Having won their World Cup qualifying group which also included Croatia they have proven to enjoy upsets.
Star-man Gylfi Sigurdsson will be a recognisable face in the bearded squad but having not played since March through injury it is not yet known how much we can expect to see from the midfield maestro.
Nigeria’s home kit sold out in the UK in under 15 minutes and looks to be a timeless classic but performances from the Super Eagles are yet to match that level of frenzied excitement.
The African nations’ best finish at a World Cup is the Round of 16 which was last achieved four years ago in Brazil but the road to knockout stages looks very tough for them this year.
Gernot Rohr has been forced into naming some young players in the team like keeper Francis Uzoho but with the experience of players like John Obi Mikel it is hoped competition debut jitters will be balanced out.
Nigeria cruised through their qualifying group which included big names in African football such as Cameroon and Algeria but have posted inconsistent results in friendlies leading up to the tournament. In November last year they stunned audiences with a 4-2 win over group-mates Argentina but most recently were uninspiring in a 2-1 loss to England at Wembley.
Nigeria host many familiar faces to Premier League fans such as Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses. It is hoped that the creative flair of these players as well as their tremendous pace and stamina can prove problematic for their opponents.
- Argentina – 9 points
- Croatia – 6 points
- Iceland – 1 point
- Nigeria – 1 point