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FIFA World Cup 2018: Group D Preview

Written by: Tushaar Sachdeva

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The group features heavyweights Argentina and giant killers Iceland who will be looking to upset the apple-cart once again.

The clock is ticking and the sand is slipping faster than ever as we walk towards kick-off at the 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup. The 32 teams are divided into eight groups of four and like always, there is a group which is the most vicious of them all. While many will argue with Group D being the 'Group of Death,' some will understand the danger the four teams bring along.


ARGENTINA

Factsheet

Last World Cup Finish: Runners-ups (16th overall) at Brazil 2014

Best World Cup Finish: Winners at Mexico 1986

Manager: Jorge Sampaoli

Confederation: CONMEBOL

Captain: Lionel Messi

FIFA ranking: 5

Likely Formation: 4-3-3

Road to World Cup

Argentina had a rather rocky road to Russia, qualifying through the CONMEBOL qualifiers. They were stuck in the bottom half of the table for a major portion of the time. Infact, they only qualified on the last matchday, beating Ecuador 3-0 and pushing Peru into the Inter-Continental playoffs.

Manager

Jorge Sampaoli led Chile to the knockout stages at Brazil 2014 and now his attacking style of play has brought his home country to Russia 2018. Despite their last gasp entry into the tournament, Sampaoli is confident of the exploits this team is capable of. La Albiceleste’s third coach in a rocky qualifying campaign, Sampaoli is desperate to make the most of it in Russia.

Squad

Players to Watch

Do we really need to mention their captain? Having been with the team for more than a decade now, Lionel Messi is the crucial cog of the Argentine engine. He scored seven goals throughout the qualifying stage including a hat-trick in the pivotal last game as well.

Partnering him as the important wheel for the nation, Paulo Dybala will look to bring his A-Game to team up with Messi and fellow Juventus teammate Gonzalo Higuain.

At the back, Nicolas Otamendi is surely the leading power and with his recent domestic season exploits, it will not be unfair to say that the teams facing Argentina will find it difficult to go past him.

SWOT Analysis


 ICELAND 

Factsheet

Last World Cup Finish: First World Cup appearance

Best World Cup Finish: First World Cup Appearance

Manager: Heimir Hallgrimsson

Confederation: UEFA

Captain: Aron Gunnarsson

FIFA ranking: 22

Likely Formation: 4-4-2

Road to World Cup

Placed in Group I of UEFA World Cup Qualifying, they finished on top of the likes of Croatia and Turkey to directly make it to Russia. They were only beaten twice over the course of 18 games, while scoring the most number of goals. 

Manager

A former dentist who previously served as a joint-head coach with Lars Lagerback, Heimir Hallgrimsson has overseen Iceland’s remarkable rise. Having led the team with Lagerback at UEFA Euro 2016, he was in sole charge as they reached a first World Cup – becoming the smallest country by population ever to qualify.

Squad

Players to Watch

Aron Gunnarsson will be leading the team in their first-ever World Cup appearance. The current Cardiff City player will have a huge responsibility on his shoulders as the captain of the team. He will look to lead his team to the knockout stages of the tournament and finish at a respectable position.

Gylfi Sigurdsson is the most experienced midfielder in the entire squad. He has been playing in the Premier League for about five years now and with 18 gaols in 55 games on the international front, he will be expected to share the goalscoring responsibilities with the captain.

Burnley winger, Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson is also a phenomenal player. He will be looking to exhibit his exclusive skill-set in the World Cup and impress the entire football fraternity.

SWOT Analysis


CROATIA

Factsheet

Last World Cup Finish: Group Stage (4th overall) at Brazil 2014,

Best World Cup Finish: 3rd Place at France 1998,

Manager: Zlatko Dalić

Confederation: UEFA

Captain: Luka Modric

FIFA ranking: 18

Likely Formation: 4-2-3-1

Road to World Cup

Making it through the UEFA World Cup Qualifying Group I, Croatia came second to Iceland and then had to play the Qualifying Playoff where they beat Greece 4-1 on aggregate. Croatia conceded the least number of goals in their group and maintained the highest goal difference, even better than group toppers Iceland.

Manager

Having replaced Ante Cacic as Croatia coach in October 2017, Zlatko Dalic led the Balkan nation through a playoff, where they defeated Greece 4-1 on aggregate to secure their spot at Russia 2018. He has previously coached UAE club Al-Ain and led them to the 2016 AFC Champions League final.

Squad

Players to Watch

Luka Modric, the captain of the tri-colour nation is their pillar on and off the field. His presence provides the fuel to the team's engine and is one of the few driving forces of the team.

Alongside him, Ivan Rakitic will be another crucial cog of the team. The El Clasico rivals have fine tuning on the international front and their country's results depend fairly on their performances.

Probably their sole experienced striker, Mario Madzukic has plenty of games under his belt and with his arsenal of scoring extraordinary goals, he will look to benefit from the assists of Modric and Rakitic.

SWOT Analysis


 NIGERIA 

Factsheet

Last World Cup Finish: Round of 16 (5th overall) at Brazil 2014,

Best World Cup Finish: Round of 16 at USA 1994, France 1998 and Brazil 2014

Manager: Gernot Rohr

Confederation: CAF

Captain: John Obi Mikel

FIFA ranking: 47

Likely Formation: 4-3-3

Road to World Cup

In CAF group B qualification, Nigeria came first ahead of Zambia and Cameroon. They had one of the best starts to the campaign and ended up scoring the most goals in the whole of CAF qualifiying.

Manager

Gernot Rohr is one of the most experienced coaches in Africa, having enjoyed stints with Gabon, Niger and Burkina Faso. The German took charge of Nigeria in August 2016 and immediately revived their fortunes, with the Super Eagles qualifying for Russia 2018 with a game to spare and becoming the first African team to secure their spot

Squad

Players to Watch

Nigeria's captain remains their key man in central midfield. A UEFA Champions League winner with Chelsea, John Obi Mikel's experience, strength and composure will be vital to the Super Eagles in Russia.

Apart from him, Victor Moses and Alex Iwobi will be crucial upfront. The Premier League duo will have the duty to take Nigeria beyond the group, owing to their quality and exposure.

SWOT Analysis


Group D Fixtures:

16 June 2018 - Argentina v Iceland 6:30 pm(IST/GMT+5:30)

17 June 2018 - Croatia v Nigeria 12:30 pm(IST/GMT+5:30)

21 June 2018 - Argentina v Croatia 11:30 pm(IST/GMT+5:30)

22 June 2018 - Nigeria v Iceland 8:30 pm(IST/GMT+5:30)

26 June 2018 - Nigeria v Argentina 11:30 pm(IST/GMT+5:30)

26 June 2018 - Iceland v Croatia 11:30 pm(IST/GMT+5:30)

What to Expect:

Group D may be termed as the "Group of Death" and exciting qualification battles are on the cards. Iceland might edge past Croatia and Nigeria to make their way to the Round of 16. We believe a Round of 16 entry is not impossible for the smallest nation in terms of population at the World Cup. On the other hand, Croatia have been a bit unfortunate to be drawn in this group, the chances of their progression look rather bleak.

All in all, the highlight match of the group will be between Argentina and Croatia. While many believe that Argentina will be comfortable group toppers, any uncanny performance from either of Iceland, Croatia or Nigeria against them could make for an upset.

 

Published: Sat Jun 09, 2018 12:55 PM IST

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