Nigeria, Argentina and Iceland are all in contention to qualify by ending in second position in the group.
As we move into the third and final round of matches of the group stages at the FIFA World Cup, the picture of who will be progressing to the knockout stages of the competition has become ever so slightly clearer. The quadrennial competition has brought with it all the surprises and upsets that we have come to expect from the beautiful game, not least in Group D, where pre-tournament favourites Argentina find themselves in a three-way scrap for qualification behind Croatia.
As it stands, Croatia have confirmed their progression into the last 16, with a 2-0 win over Nigeria followed by a resounding victory over Argentina. The African country defeated Iceland to register their first victory of the competition, putting them in second place in the group and in pole position to proceed.
Argentina and Iceland are tied at one point apiece with the Vikings edging the South Americans on goal-difference. The Albiceleste and their talisman, Lionel Messi will meet Nigeria in a must win game on Tuesday. Argentina’s progression is still not completely in their hands, as they will be depending on Luka Modric’s Croatia to defeat Iceland in their last group stage fixture.
Argentina were put to the sword in their last fixture as they looked to bounce back from an unexpected draw against Iceland. Defensive errors, naivety in front of goal and an irresistible Croatian side saw the South Americans finding themselves in an incredibly sticky position going into the last round of fixtures.
Fingers were pointed at Jorge Sampaoli, the head coach of Argentina, following the match, who is in desperate need of a win. Meanwhile, Nigeria found themselves in second place in the group following their victory against Iceland. The Super Eagles did what Argentina struggled to in penetrating the Icelandic wall on two occasions, with Leicester city’s Ahmed Musa scoring two very well-taken goals.
A draw would all but see Nigeria progress, provided Iceland do not beat Croatia by a margin greater than two goals. If Nigeria fail to defeat Argentina, goal-difference is certain to become a deciding factor as to which team progresses. Argentina lie at the bottom of the group with a goal-difference of -3, Iceland have a goal-difference of -2 and Nigeria lie at 0.
If two teams finish the three rounds of the group level on points as well as on goal difference, the team which has scored the greater number of goals will proceed. Goals have not been easy to come by for the three teams fighting for progression from Group D, with only a single member from each squad having found the net so far in the competition.
Argentina Vs Croatia – Match Highlights
While Iceland have never been the bookmarkers’ favourites to progress from the group, it would be foolish to rule out the nation completely as they have proved time and time again that they are more than capable of the odd footballing upset. If they were to topple the group leaders Croatia in their final game, it would put immense pressure on the backs of Argentina and Messi to get a result against Nigeria, considering the fact that they trail the Icelanders on goal-difference.
A victory for Nigeria would see them gain an unassailable lead with six points, condemning Argentina and Iceland to early exits from Russia. However, victories for Argentina or Iceland would see them overtake Nigeria in second place with four points.
If Argentina were to be knocked out of the competition, it would be the first time that the Albiceleste would not be taking part in the Round of 16 in 56 years, with their last early exit coming all the way back in 1962. In contrast, Iceland are playing their first World Cup finals and Nigeria’s best finish has been in the last 16 in 1994.
So, the ownness is very much on Sampaoli’s side to drag themselves over the line as this tournament will most likely signal the end of the road for several of the players who have been stalwarts of the Argentinian side for years gone by.
The two deciding fixtures will be played on Tuesday and could be key in the competition going forward. Time will tell who will be joining Croatia in the last 16.