2018 FIFA World Cup preview: Group D

 Source: AFP

Source: AFP

Group D features either the best or second best player in the game, with Lionel Messi looking to capture glory with Argentina. Messi and his teammates should be favored to finish atop of the group, but they will face a challenge from Croatia, who boast a strong midfield, headlined by Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic. Let’s take a look at what each team will have to do move forward in the tournament.

Group A preview
Group B preview

Group C preview
Group E preview
Group F preview
Group G preview
Group H preview

Argentina

The Albiceleste will not be playing again until their first game of the tournament against Iceland, as there friendly against Israel was canceled. All eyes will be on Messi, as they should be. We have had the privilege to watch Messi for over a decade now, and success with Argentina has been met with losses in multiple championship matches, including the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The group will have similar aspirations to 2014, which was to be champions. Argentina has great talent in attack, but struggled to score in its qualifiers and also was on the verge of not qualifying.

This will likely be the last tournament we see Angel Di Maria, Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, and Gonzalo Higuain at the peak of their powers in the attack of Argentina. Javier Mascherano will also likely be playing in his final tournament. For Argentina to win, Manager Sampaoli will have to maintain a disciplined squad in defense, where Argentina has not produced the same level of talent as its attacking players, and Aguero and Di Maria will need to take of advantage of the attention Messi is able to draw. Aguero suffered an injury that kept him out of much of the late season of Manchester City. Luckily for him, their first game should be a good chance to bring him to speed.

Croatia

 Source: Reuters

Source: Reuters

After failing to advance from the group stage in 2014, Croatia will seek to take advantage of its golden generation of midfielders and look to challenge a team in the knockout stage. The team is led by Luka Modric, who commands the midfield for Real Madrid and has been a crucial component of their three previous Champions League campaigns. Another Real Madrid player for the team, Mateo Kovacic, and Ivan Rakitic, playing for rival FC Barcelona, will be great to partner alongside Modric to maintain tempo and control of the game. The other key players to look at will be Mario Mandzukic, the former Bayern Munich forward and now Juventus player, will have to be a threat in the aerial game and Andrej Kramaric has had recent success scoring for the national team.

Croatia did not have its greatest performance in its recent match against Brazil, as Neymar scored in his comeback to the national team. However, they should be favored to finish second in the group, and could be a threat to Argentina with its ability to pressure a defense and Argentina’s inconsistent play.

Iceland

Iceland is making its first ever appearance in the FIFA World Cup. After having made the quarterfinals in the Euro 2016, the team has lost its previous three matches to Mexico and two other teams who have not made an appearance in the World Cup in at least 20 years. The loss to Norway was a game that demonstrated a lack of composure of a squad with veterans playing with their respective clubs but not much international experience.

While Iceland is ranked only three spots lower than Croatia in the FIFA rankings, this is just another example of the flaws in the rankings and the squad will be relying on counterattacks for most of its matches in the tournament. Iceland will face-off against Ghana in its last match before playing Argentina in its opener of the tournament. Not the opponent they were looking to start off their first ever World Cup campaign against, but welcome to the tournament Iceland.

Nigeria

 Source: Nike

Source: Nike

Nigeria will play in its first match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup against Croatia, which will be an important determinant if it can finish as a runner-up in Group D. The squad is captained by John Obi Mikel, who was a long-time Chelsea midfielder and a decorated African player who played in of the top teams in the world. Victor Moses, who has been on loan for several teams in the Premier League, will have to excel along the wings to take pressure off the Nigeria defense. Alex Iwobi, recently turned 22, will have a hard task at hand but his experience at Arsenal over the past three seasons will serve him well against the defense of Argentina and Croatia.

The Nigeria team has not had much success when confronted with tougher competition than it faces in the CAF. However, the team does have experience on its side and has proven before that it is capable of reaching the knockout stage.

(Also, the jersey sales for the Nigeria have soared as it has been dubbed the jersey of the tournament)

Predictions

Argentina, Croatia, Nigeria, Iceland