Whenever the draws for the group stages are made for any competition, eagle eyed supporters of the game always watch out for the ‘group of death’, where all the sides are either strong contenders for the trophy or a formidable opposition to break down. In this edition of the FIFA World Cup, there was no clear cut indication of such a group as the strong nations were well distributed amongst the groups.
However, taking a closer look at the groups, group D, consisting of Argentina, Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria, does more justice than any other group to the tag of ‘group of death’. A team led by arguably the best player in the world in Lionel Messi, a Croatian side packed equally with talent and experience, the team which punched above their weight and knocked out the mighty English in Euro 2016 and an unpredictable Nigeria side, this is surely the toughest groups of the bunch.
Despite possessing a plethora of stars such as Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain, Argentina found the going tough in the qualifying campaign, with Messi single-handedly taking them through with a hattrick in the last match against Ecuador. Manager Jorge Sampaoli has tried and tested innumerable formations to find the right balance and football enthusiasts will hope to see the team play their best football again. With a record of four losses and seven draws out of eighteen matches in qualifying, opponents will fancy their chances but at the same time will be vary of the fact that they possess players who can change the game single-handedly.
Coming to the Croats, the side came agonizingly close to reaching the Quarter-finals of Euro 2016, when they lost to Portugal in extra time. They will heavily rely on key players in the form of captain Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic, as lack of dressing room harmony and run-ins of the squad members with their manager will test their unity throughout the world cup campaign. The team finished runners up in the qualifying group and will have to drastically improve as they trailed non other than Iceland in the standings of that particular group.
Iceland was the surprise package of Euro 2016 when the team punched above their weight to knock out England and reach the quarter finals of the tournament. They followed it up with a sublime world cup qualifying campaign where they finished top of their group ahead of sides like Croatia and Ukraine to prove that their performance at the Euros was not a one-off occasion. With Gylfi Sigurdsson at the heart of their team, the Icelanders deploy an effective playing style which is heavily reliant on a tight defense and ability to hurt teams from set pieces. Watch out for Aron Gunnarsson’s long-throws, which was developed into a special tactic to hurt teams at Euro 16.
Rounding off the group with Nigeria, the ‘Super Eagles’ extended their unbeaten run in world cup qualifiers to 36 games in their comfortable qualifying campaign. However, they must improve on their recent form as they have won only one out of four matches they have played in 2018, with that solitary win coming against Poland. The Nigerians surprised Argentina in the previous edition in 2014 with a spirited display in their 3-2 loss, as a Lionel Messi brace helped the albiceleste through. Led by John Obi Mikel and a supporting cast of players of flair and steel such as Alex Iwobi and Victor Moses, the team will fancy their chances in spite of being handed the toughest of the groups.
Predictions for the group standings :