With the 2018 World Cup in Russia kicking off in less than a month, SoccerNews.com is commencing its own series of group predictions where you will be able to find previews of all the teams taking part in this summer’s showpiece tournament, latest team news and best betting odds and suggestions.
Following on from our first three previews, we’ve arrived at Group D. There’s an argument to be made that this is the real Group of Death throughout the entire tournament, which is hardly something that people would’ve been expecting to say if this group was drawn out back in 2014.
Argentina would usually be pinpointed as the clear favourites to reach the knockout stages, but given how they fared in qualifying, that may not wind up being the case. On the other hand, you’ve got Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria, who are all riding serious waves of momentum as we head into Russia. There are no certainties one way or another as we all know, but this is certainly one of the groups with the most potential for excitement.
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) May 21, 2018
As two-time winners of the FIFA World Cup, many fans were anticipating Argentina’s presence in this competition long before they officially qualified. However, courtesy of some shambolic displays by their standards, they were left on the outside looking in as they prepared for their final CONMEBOL matchday. Thankfully, they had the one and only Lionel Messi who came to their rescue and ensured that they wouldn’t join high profile omissions like The Netherlands, Italy, Chile and the United States. Still, only seven wins from 18 qualifying games across two years didn’t exactly fill their fans with confidence.
But that’s all in the past, and now they can focus on maximising their efforts to erase the memories of four years ago. For those of you who may have forgotten, Argentina reached the 2014 final in Brazil, only to be defeated in extra time by Germany. It was a devastating loss, to say the least, and it’ll be all systems go for them to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself.
There’s an argument to be made that Argentina should simply throw caution to the wind and focus all of their energy on their attacking options, because it may be the best way for them to realistically win the competition. The difference in quality between their defence and the rest of the team is staggering, with Messi, Dybala, Higuain and Aguero all preparing to lead the line in a big way. Icardi is the most notable absentee, but either way, you have to question how they’ll make this work tactically.
OFFICIAL: Iceland’s 23-man squad for the 2018 World Cup. 🇮🇸 pic.twitter.com/2mNvv5YHR7
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) May 19, 2018
If you want the definition of a surprise package, then look no further than Iceland. Their World Cup qualification is something that would usually be seen as nothing more than an anomaly but given they performed at UEFA Euro 2016 in France, some European football fans were almost expecting it. They defied all the odds to reach the quarter-finals of the competition, and they’ve been able to continue their momentum all the way through qualification.
In a group that many would’ve considered incredibly difficult, Iceland seemed to ooze confidence from start to finish as they topped Group I ahead of Ukraine, Turkey, Finland, Kosovo and ironically Croatia who they’ll meet once again in Russia. With 22 points and seven victories in ten games to their name, they certainly earned their place in this tournament, with Gylfi Sigurdsson and Alfred Finnbogason leading the charge.
Iceland have stuck with what they know when it comes to their squad selection, and you can’t exactly blame them for that. They’ve got their talisman Sigurdsson leading the way, but given how he’s performed for Everton this season, they made need to look elsewhere for a hero. Cardiff’s Aron Gunnarsson also earned himself a spot on the plane, despite some injury worries which were threatening to keep him out. It’s not the best squad from a talent perspective, but you just know that they’ll give it everything they’ve got in Russia.
— HNS | CFF (@HNS_CFF) May 21, 2018
While they may not be seen as one of Europe’s elite football nations, Croatia have a long and illustrious history in both the World Cup and the European Championships. They’ll be making their fifth official appearance in the finals this summer in Russia, with their best performance coming back in 1998 when they stunned the world by finishing in third place. However, they’ll want to ensure that they bounce back from their 2014 performance which saw them crash out at the Group Stages.
They had a relatively strong qualification period this time around which saw them win six of their ten games, but it wasn’t quite enough to secure top spot courtesy of Iceland’s remarkable performance. Still, their fans can’t complain all too much given how impressive they were in the playoffs, as they dismantled Greece 4-1 in the first leg before holding out for a 0-0 draw in the second. They may not be the prettiest team to watch at times, but they certainly know how to get the job done.
Much like Belgium, Croatia has a lot of substance on paper when it comes to name value. Subasic, Corluka, Vrsaljko, Modric, Rakitic, Kovacic, Mandzukic, Perisic and Kalinic are all names that should strike fear into the hearts of the remaining Group D teams, but they still need to be able to produce the goods on the pitch. Their defence is weaker than it has been in previous years which is always going to be a worry, and they need to find the right balance if they’re going to progress into the knockout stages.
#Nigeria‘s provisional #WorldCup squad of 30 players has been released. 23 players will eventually make it to the tournament next month. It’s going to be a lot of competition for those final slots in the coming days. Good luck lads. pic.twitter.com/7nfcKhDkhJ
— CampsBay Sport Media (@CampsBayMedia) May 14, 2018
Despite the controversy surrounding their awarded loss to Algeria, you could argue that Nigeria were one of the most promising African teams in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. They picked up four wins and one draw from their six games in the Third Round of qualification, scoring 11 goals in the process. They’ve always been looked upon as one of the most dangerous African teams in the game, and right now, they’re living up to that reputation in more ways than one.
Plus, when you look back on their past performances, it’s clear to see that they aren’t afraid of anyone heading into this tournament. This is the sixth time they’ll be competing at the World Cup, having qualified for the Round of 16 on three separate occasions. We aren’t just talking about the distant past, either, as they were able to reach the knockout stages in 2014 before being knocked out by France. You may not like them, but you may have no choice but to respect them.
Given the tradition of how they like to announce things, it seems as if Nigeria could well be one of the final teams to announce their official squad prior to the deadline on June 2nd. With seven players on that list still yet to be confirmed as official members of the Super Eagles for the World Cup, it seems odd to speculate on whether or not it’s a good line-up. Still, there are plenty of exciting attacking options on display, and they proved themselves to be a formidable outfit in qualifying.
Given the unpredictable nature of Group D, it’s hardly surprising to see that there are some interesting odds floating around. With that being said, Argentina are still the overwhelming favourites to win the group with odds of 8/13 to come first and 1/7 to just qualify at all. The next side that are expected to join them is Croatia with odds of 1/2 to qualify and given their experience, that makes a lot of sense. Still, Nigeria at 9/4 should be considered good value, and you’d be a fool to count out Iceland who are the dark horses with qualification odds of 11/4.
Of course, all eyes will still be on Lionel Messi as he attempts to cement his status as the greatest of all time by winning the World Cup. Argentina are fifth favourites to win the whole thing at 9/1, with Messi himself being the favourite to secure the Golden Boot at 9/1.
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!