World Cup 2018 Group D Preview: Things to Get Messi for Argentina?

Argentina Flag
Credit: Pixabay

A nation with an outstanding pedigree at the World Cup, Argentina will be looking to go one better in Russia this summer.

They tasted defeat in the final of the 2014 edition – the tears of Lionel Messi still etched onto the memories of many – and the South Americans will be hoping to avenge that loss despite being a rather long way from home.

You would expect them to qualify from Group D, although a bracket that features Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria is littered with obvious obstacles.

So just how far can Messi and co go in this year’s World Cup?

Argentina – Group Winner Odds: 8/11

Argentina FlagHead Coach: Jorge Sampaoli

Key Man: Lionel Messi

They say in football that a selection headache is the best one you can have, and it will be Jorge Sampaoli who will be reaching for the Calpol as he seeks to find a way to get Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain into his starting eleven.

At least one, possibly two, of those elite-level forwards will miss out when the Argentines host Iceland in their first Group D game as Sampaoli seeks the kind of balance that will guide the nation to the business end of the competition.

Argentina aren’t blessed with a myriad of defensive talents, and clearly their mission in Russia will be to score more goals than their opponents; this isn’t an outfit that looks capable of keeping too many clean sheets.

But they reached the final of World Cup 2014, of course, and while their qualification campaign was anything but rosy, they have the kind of player at their disposal who will thrive in knockout football should they progress past the group phase. Sampaoli has plenty of experience too after guiding Chile to a Copa America title.

Group D is a strange old affair as Croatia are a decent outfit and Iceland have made a habit out of upsetting the odds in recent years. But, you have to say that 8/11 on Argentina to win the bracket is an outstanding price if Sampaoli can find a way to balance all of his attacking stars.

Croatia – Group Winner Odds: 13/5

Croatia FlafgHead Coach: Zlatko Dalic

Key Man: Luka Modric

Another side that looks good on paper but has a habit of underwhelming on the big stage is Croatia, who in the past decade have a sole quarter-final to their name in major tournament play.

It’s odd for an outfit that can select a midfield three made up of Barcelona and Real Madrid players (Rakitic, Modric and Kovacic), a frontline with a pair of Serie A champions (Mandzukic and Pjaca at Juventus), and a Europa League winner and Champions League finalist at the back (Vrsaljko and Lovren).

Add into the mix Monaco’s excellent keeper, Danijel Subasic, and the talented young pair of Andrej Kramaric and Marcelo Brozovic, and this is a side that should be competing for silverware.

But it never quite happens for the Croatians, for some reason, and they needed a play-off to even book their spot in Russia after finishing second behind Iceland in qualifying.

And so this is a side that flatters to deceive when the spotlight is on, and it might just be worth taking a watching brief as far as Croatia are concerned.

Nigeria – Group Winner Odds: 10/1

Nigeria FlagHead Coach: Gernot Rohr

Key Man: Victor Moses

They may have the best-looking kit on display in Russia – indeed, the Nike shop in London sold out of three separate deliveries of the natty green shirt – but you do wonder if the Nigerian players can live up to their sartorial elegance.

They were dreadful in the first half of the friendly against England on Saturday, and while they improved somewhat in the second period this was still an outfit that looked completely off the pace.

They are rated as a better chance than Iceland to progress from Group D, which is mildly offensive to the Icelanders, and if they are to enjoy any success in Russia they will need their big guns – Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi and John Obi-Mikel – to come to the party.

Iceland – Group Winner Odds: 12/1

Iceland FlagHead Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson

Key Man: Gylfi Sigurdsson

It would be easy to write off ‘little old Iceland’ at the World Cup, but this is a team that has made upsetting the odds a habit in recent years.

Don’t forget that Euro 2016 was their first ever major tournament appearance, and there they were unbeaten through their first four games – beating England, famously – before bowing out to hosts France in the last eight.

They were at it again in World Cup 2018 qualifying, topping a group that included Croatia, Turkey and the Ukraine.

So we write the Islanders off at our peril, even if their squad is lacking in obvious star quality. The togetherness and organisation this well-drilled team has shown in recent times can propel them to further success.

That said, we must assume that Argentina and Croatia will finish in the top two; but a fine selection for punters could well be Nigeria to finish bottom of Group D at 8/5.