The group of death in this year’s World Cup is quite fittingly Group-D. Argentina features along with dark horses Croatia, resolute Iceland and indomitable Nigerians. Argentina will be the favorites to go through this tough group but one bad result could well change everything. It is almost impossible to call who will finish second, with Iceland resolute team-game and excellent form making up for their lack of talent. Croatia’s talented squad has not been in the best of form lately and Nigeria will look to play their effective counter-attacking game and catch teams on the break. It is quite impossible to call this group!
After what can be termed as a horror show in qualifying for the World Cup, Argentina somehow managed to qualify. For Lionel Messi – the captain and main reason they reached Russia – it is pretty much a case of now or never. The main issue throughout the qualifying campaign has been scoring goals, with the team scoring just 19 goals in their 18 matches, surprising considering the wealth of attacking options in the team. If the attack does start to show its potential, the shaky defense may not need to worry too much, although Sampaoli will be hoping Gabriel Mercado, Javier Mascherano and Nicolás Otamendi can shut out teams on a regular basis.
History- 2 times Champions.
Qualification Form- Third in the South American section behind Brazil and Uruguay. Won 9 drew 4 lost 5.
Watch out for- This does not need saying, Lionel Messi, perhaps the greatest footballer of all time. Could well be the last time he gets a chance to win a World Cup for his country.
While it is true that their qualification campaign did not go as planned, having to qualify through play-offs after finishing behind Iceland in their group, it is also true that Croatia boasts one of the most talented squads in the World Cup.
The only reason why despite having these fabulous players they are not the favorites? Consistency. As is the case with most of the talented teams playing in these competitions, the players don’t seem to gel well enough and as a result lack consistency. If Croatia can sort that out, they may equal or go further than their legendary team of France’98.
History- Finished 3rd in their debut campaign in 1998
Qualification Form- won 6, drew 2, lost 2.
Watch out for: Luka Modric- No matter how many talented midfielders you pack into any team, it is still going to be incomplete without Luka Modric. Amazing at finding those clever passes and making clever runs, a combination of him and Rakitic could well provide the spark for Croatia in finishing on the top in tough matches.
Will the fans of the smallest nation ever to qualify for the World Cup be able to support their team in Russia in the way they did in France? Almost 10% of the nation traveled to Euro 2016 and there could be similar or even bigger levels next summer, but Moscow and Saint Petersburg are obviously easier to reach than Ekaterinburg and Volgograd.
After overcoming a series of unfortunate events like losing their main striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson to injury and the departure of their coach Lars Lagerback and winning a tough qualifying group boasting of three Euro 2016 qualifiers, Iceland is already proving that the success at the Euros was no flash in the pan. Watch out for them emulating their Euro success and taking a few notable scalps along the way.
History- Making their World Cup debut
Qualification Form- Winners of European Group I ahead of Croatia
Watch out for: Gylfi Sigurdsson- The talented midfielder who plays for Everton has a great passing ability and is more than handy with a set-piece. Watch out for his near perfect free-kicks from the edge of the area.
Placed in a group with Algeria, Cameroon and the 2012 African champions Zambia, the Super Eagles qualified with a game to spare. German manager Gernot Rohr has radically improved the side, infusing the freshness of youth into the team and knitted together a ruthless counterattacking side who feature the outstanding Alex Iwobi and with Chelsea’s wing-back Victor Moses playing as a dynamic, talismanic winger. With a tight defense and the experienced John Obi Mikel marshaling the midfield, Nigeria will be an exciting team to watch in the World Cup this year.
Qualification Form- Winners of African Group B; Won 6, drew 2, lost 0.
Watch out for: Alex Iwobi- The outstanding midfielder has had a breakthrough season with Arsenal and will look to inject pace and creativity to the Nigerian attack.