Three down, five to go in our 2018 FIFA World Cup group previews. You can take a look at our breakdown for Groups A, B and C by heading to the BYB Soccer Page or you can check out our preview for the intriguing Group D below!
Group D features what should be a major player in this year’s World Cup in Argentina along with Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria.
One of the pre-tournament favourites, and for good reason is the South American powerhouse Argentina. Led by arguably the best player in the world in Leonel Messi, the Argentinians live and breath football and have one of the deepest rosters and most talented rosters in world football.
Only an extra 113th minute goal to German Mario Gotze stopped them from lifting the 2014 World Cup trophy, and they’ll be on the hunt for revenge this year as Messi enters his first major international tournament in his 30s. The little master is often criticised for his inability to perform on the big stage for his country, and while he was key in Argentina reaching the final of the 2014 tournament, many feel like his career wont be complete until he lifts the trophy.
Aging players mixed with young stars in their prime suggest that this has to be the year for Messi if he aims to lead Argentina to a WC trophy. Angel Di Maria, Javier Mascherano, Gonzalo Higaun, Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero all accompany Messi on the wrong side of 30, and betweem them have over 500 international caps between them.
Players to watch: While Messi is obviously the key to the Argentinian team, look out for young Juventus star Paulo Dybala. With only 12 international caps to his name, Dybala could announce himself on the international stage this year.
Croatia faced a tough qualifying group in the Europe section featuring Iceland, Ukraine, Turkey, Finland and Kosovo. Iceland just pipped them for the automatic qualification and a second place finish in the group set up a home and away play in against Greece to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
A 4-1 home win in the first leg assured that Croatia would advance to their fifth World Cup and after finishing 3rd in the 1998 tournament and following it with three disappointing group stage exits in a row, they’ll be keen to reach the knockout stage once again.
It’s a great opportunity for them to do so as well, as Iceland and Nigeria are both very beatable teams. Their squad is filled with top end talent in the likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakatic, Mateo Kovacic, Mario Manzukic and Dejan Lovren and I see them as a real dark-horse to do well in 2018.
Players to watch: Apart from maybe the likes of Germany and Spain, you’ll have a fairly tough time finding a better midfield trio of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakatic and Mateo Kovacic competing at this World Cup.
The Nordic fan favourites burst onto the international football scene in 2016 when they advanced out of their group in the European Championships and sent England packing in the Round of 16. They were then put out of the tournament by eventual finalists in France, however, the performance definitely lit a spark under the footballing nation that carried them through the World Cup qualifying process.
While we mentioned above that the Iceland/Croatia qualifying group was tough, it was only so because there wasn’t really one standout juggernaut like there was in most other groups and instead there were four teams all around the same level. This meant that Iceland didn’t really have to face a top tier team in the likes of Germany/Spain/Portugal to qualify for this years World Cup.
While Icelandic football has definitely come a long way over the past few years, I still have massive reservations about them to perform consistently. I think too much falls on the shoulders of star midfieder Gylfi Sigurdsson and it’s shown in their last three friendly games as they’ve lost all three to Norway, Peru and Mexico.
Players to watch: As we mentioned, Sigurdsson is the one to watch here and was the ultimate factor in why Iceland were able to make their miraculous run in the 2016 Euros. Can he carry them again?
TIP: No bet
One of the most successful African nations at the World Cup in recent years, many have slated Nigeria as the continents best chance at lifting the trophy in the future. They have a solid football base now that has seen them qualify for their third World Cup in a row in 2018 and are currently ranked 47 on the FIFA World Rankings.
Nigeria cruised through their World Cup qualifying group in the Confederation of African Football to book their place in this years tournament, beating out Zambia, Cameroon and Algeria.
It’s hard to get a read on their form coming into the tournament as they reached the final of the 2018 African Nations Championships in January and then went on to win just one of their next five friendlies. Ultimately, they have the prowess and talent to surprise at this World Cup, but I find it hard to bet on them given recent form.
Nigeria are almost capable of fielding a full EPL roster the likes of Kelechi Iheanacho, Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City), Alex Iwobi (Arsenal), Victor Moses, Kenneth Omeruo (Chelsea) and Leon Balogun (Brighton) all set to play a big part in this campaign.
Players to watch: Despite all the EPL talent mentioned above, its CSKA Moscow forward Ahmed Musa, who will have the biggest point to prove in Russia. Top class striker who will look to show the world that.
TIP: No bet
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