World Cup 2018 Preview – Group D
In every World Cup draw there is one group given the title ‘group of death’ and if there was one such group in the 2018 World Cup, it must be Group D.
The group contains Argentina, Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria.
All four teams will believe they have a chance of reaching the knockout stages of the tournament and while Argentina will start as favourites to win the group, all three of the other nations in Group D have a realistic opportunity of making the Round of 16 in Russia.
It’s easy to forget Argentina came so close to winning the World Cup four years ago, losing out in the final to Germany.
Perhaps this has been forgotten somewhat because they have struggled since and qualifying became a real chore for the two-time World Cup winners. If it wasn’t for a Lionel Messi hat-trick in their final qualifying match, Argentina would have missed out on the 2018 World Cup.
However, having qualified for the tournament, they are many people’s favourites to lift the trophy and with an abundance of attacking talent, it is easy to see why.
Manager: Jorge Sampaoli is Argentina’s third coach in a year and he has won only one of his four competitive games in charge of the team. There are question marks over his ability to lead the team in Russia.
Key Player: Despite having many superb attacking players, Argentina would not be considered contenders for the 2018 World Cup without Lionel Messi. Quite simply, no Messi means no chance.
Iceland are one of the new teams at the 2018 World Cup, having never qualified for the tournament before in their history.
Their appearance at the 2016 European Championship was their first major tournament and they did very well, progressing from their group and defeating England in the Round of 16. Just as famous for their fans as their team, Iceland did superbly to qualify for the World Cup from a group containing Croatia, Turkey and Ukraine.
Manager: Heimir Hallgrimsson was promoted from the assistant coaches’ position to the full Iceland role in 2013. The qualified dentist took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left in 2017.
Key Player: Gylfi Sigurdsson may not be having a great season at Everton but he remains Iceland’s best player. His performances in midfield will be Iceland’s greatest attacking threat.
Croatia have competed in four World Cup finals and reached the semi-final of the competition in 1998, losing out to eventual winners France.
The Blazers proved they can top a tough tournament group when they finished above Spain in the 2016 European Championships. However, Croatia were forced to come through the playoffs in qualifying for the World Cup and defeated Greece 4-1 on aggregate to confirm their place in Russia.
Croatia have a strong core of players at top European teams and if they perform to their best, could win the group.
Manager: Zlatko Dalic took over the team with one qualifying game remaining and guided Croatia to a 2-0 win over Ukraine, before defeating Greece in the playoffs. This will have given the former under-21 assistant great confidence.
Key Player: Luka Modric is the man Croatia will be looking towards in the midfield and if the Real Madrid man can get on the ball often enough, he will hurt opponents with his passing.
Nigeria have participated in six of the last seven World Cup tournaments and this experience should hold them in good stead.
The Super Eagles are the only African team to have played in the previous World Cup and qualified for Russia. Nigeria came out on top of a qualifying group containing Algeria, Cameroon and Zambia but their campaign ended in chaos when they fielded an illegible player in the last match against Algeria.
Nigeria will need good organisation and discipline if they are to do well in Russia.
Manager: Nigeria have changed manager no fewer than eight times since the 2014 World Cup but Gernot Rohr has been a calming influence on the team following his arrival from Burkina Faso.
Key Player: Jon Obi Mikel is the captain of Nigeria and he is the man who keeps the team ticking over in midfield. His experience will be just as important as his playing ability.