With the days to the beginning of the World Cup ticking away, it’s time for us to begin to take a look at each group in more detail. In the following article we profile one of the more interesting groups the draw has provided; Group D, containing Argentina, Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria.
Argentina are odds-on favourites to progress to the last 16 with top spot but won’t have things all their own way against a strong Croatian team, a Nigeria side they’ve already fallen to friendly defeat against and an Icelandic outfit looking to repeat their Euro 2016 heroics.
Kicking off on Saturday 16th June and ending on Tuesday 26th, Group D certainly looks like one viewers won’t want to miss much of, both from a viewing and betting perspective and by reading on, you’ll be able to ascertain all the information you need for both standpoints.
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FIFA Ranking: 5
Best Finish: Winners (1978, 1986)
Having made the final four years ago before having their hearts broken by a Mario Gotze extra time goal, Argentina arrive looking to claim their third World Cup crown. It’s last chance saloon for most of this generation of Argentine players, with whom faith isn’t too high back home after 3 consecutive final defeats and having only limped over the qualification line, winning just 7 of their 18 qualifiers.
Relatively new boss Jorge Sampaoli hasn’t had a great deal of time to settle on a starting XI going into the tournament and plenty of questions remain in La Albiceleste ranks all over the pitch. Lacking cohesion and a settled side, Lionel Messi is going to have an outstanding tournament for the South Americans to make another deep run in the competition.
To see how Argentina could lineup in Russia, take a look at our Potential Argentina Starting XI feature!
FIFA Ranking: 18
Best Finish: Semi-finalist (1998)
Croatia rather underwhelmed in Brazil but with more tournament experience under their belt, Zlatko Dalić’s troops will be hopeful of making a better fist of it this time around. Vatreni weren’t exactly firing on all cylinders in qualification, needing a play-off win over Greece to make it.
Nonetheless, with one of the strongest in midfield areas of all the nations travelling, boasting the likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mateo Kovacic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia have the ability to trade blows with just about any opponent and are certainly one of the potential dark horses.
FIFA Ranking: 47
Best Finish: Round of 16 (1994, 1998, 2014)
Despite amounting just 4 points in a group containing Argentina, Bosnia and Iran four years ago, Nigeria made it into the last 16, where they were eliminated by France. Remarkably, the Super Eagles have faced Argentina in the group in each of their last 3 World Cup appearances, losing every time but having defeated them 4-2 in a November friendly, Gernot Rohr’s men have no real reason to be afraid going into that particular clash.
Although considerable underdogs in the group, Nigeria arrive with confidence high after qualifying in unbeaten fashion. Possessing some talented players, particularly going forwards, the side cannot be completely counted out of the equation but do look like facing an uphill battle in a difficult group,
FIFA Ranking: 22
Best Finish: Debutants
By far the most successful generation of Icelandic footballers look to continue their amazing journey in Russia. With a population of just over 300,000 people, Iceland have never been even remotely close to an international force but that has changed dramatically with the current crop of players.
Iceland famously made it to the quarter-finals of the European Championships two years ago in their first appearance in the competition and repeating the feat in the World Cup would be a remarkable effort given the underdog tag once again attached. However, having pipped Croatia themselves to top spot in qualification, Iceland certainly command respect and arrive with high hopes of rustling some more feathers.
Group D Fixtures
Saturday 16th June – Argentina vs Iceland – 2pm, Moscow (ITV)
Saturday 16th June – Croatia vs Nigeria – 8pm, Kaliningrad (ITV)
Thursday 21st June – Argentina vs Croatia – 7pm, Nizhny Novgorod (BBC)
Friday 22nd June – Nigeria vs Iceland – 4pm, Volgograd (BBC)
Tuesday 26th June – Iceland vs Croatia – 7pm, Rostov-on-Don (BBC)
Tuesday 26th June – Nigeria vs Argentina – 3pm, Saint Petersburg (BBC)
Who is Travelling the Furthest in Group D?
Argentina are clearly the side who have tried to reduce travel times as much as possible, needing to travel around just 1,253 kilometres for their 3 fixtures. Iceland will wrack up about 3,036 kilometres across their ventures, followed by Croatia who will travel just under 4,000. That leaves the Nigerians to do most of the running around, needing to travel a huge 5,770 kilometres from their Essentuki base. It’s worth noting that Argentina will be able to arrive on coach for their opener against Iceland, with their base just 65 kilometres away from the Russian capital, whereas their opponents will have to make a big 1,520 kilometre trip.
Who is Going to Qualify From Group D?
Without wanting to disrespect Nigeria and Iceland, it’s fairly apparent that Argentine and Croatia are the big favourites to advance, something reflected in prices across all bookmakers. The real question is who will secure the all important top spot and we see great value in backing Croatia to take it, evidenced by our pick of them in our World Cup Group Betting feature. They have a far more settled team than Argentina, who may well have to settle for second spot given their rather vulnerable state.
Iceland and Nigeria cannot be totally ruled out of the equation but man for man, it’s apparent they do not possess the same quality as their fellow competitors. The notable fixture to watch out for is certainly the Argentina vs Croatia clash on Thursday 21st June, a contest that will surely go a long way in setting the group’s pecking order.
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