This summer we are fortunate enough to once again have the Greatest* Soccer Tournament on the planet to keep us entertained until NFL Training Camps start. In anticipation of the 2018 World Cup kicking off in mid-June in Russia, we’ll be taking a look at all 32 teams in each of the 8 groups.
* – The 2018 World Cup comes with an asterisk on “Greatest” because 5 of the Top 25 teams in the World failed to qualify. Those 5 are some of the biggest names and biggest draws both locally (with the United States missing the World Cup for the first time since 1986) and internationally with Italy, Chile, the Netherlands, and Wales.
Today, we continue with Group D which features some familiar opponents. Argentina and Nigeria have been together in a group in 5 of the last 7 World Cups. Iceland and Croatia were together in a group in UEFA World Cup Qualifying this cycle. Be sure to check out our other group previews:
Argentina is appearing in their 12th consecutive World Cup. They have won the title twice (1978 and 1986) and lost to Germany in the Championship Game in Brazil 2014. La Albicesleste also finished second behind Chile in both the 2015 Copa America and 2016 Copa America Centenario tournaments.
Argentina brings one of the oldest rosters to the World Cup with more than half of their players over 30 years old. Argentina finished 3rd in CONMEBOL qualification, but their place in the World Cup was not secure until the final matchday when a Leo Messi hat trick in the altitude of Quito, Ecuador secured their place in Russia.
Players to Watch
Will this finally be Lionel Messi’s crowning moment on the international stage? He won the Golden Ball as the best player in the 2014 World Cup but was unable to lead his team to the title. Messi is arguably the best player of this generation and has won the FIFA Ballon’Or 5 times. He captains a roster loaded with experience and high-end talent from top European clubs. He is joined at the front of the Argentine attack by Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and Juventus men Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala. In the midfield, Paris Saint-Germain’s Angel Di Maria and Milan’s Lucas Biglia will be a formidable tandem. The one question is goalkeeping where Sergio Romero’s injury left a hole at the back end. Willy Caballero (who has played in a backup role for Manchester City and Chelsea lately) will likely be tasked with filling the keeper’s role.
Iceland will be making their first appearance in the World Cup. They won the hearts of many after their run to the Quarterfinals (including an upset win over England in the Round of 16) at the Euro 2016 tournament.
Iceland won their UEFA Qualification group, which also featured Croatia, to earn a spot in the World Cup. You can bet there will be plenty of D2: The Mighty Ducks jokes on Twitter during Iceland games.
Players to Watch
This is mostly the same team that played in France two years ago with the exception of striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson who was injured during qualifying and is on the stand-by list for Russia. The weight of the team will fall on Cardiff City midfielder Aron Gunnarsson and Everton midfielder Gylfi Sugurosson.
Croatia has qualified for the World Cup in 5 of their 6 opportunities since the breakup of Yugoslavia. Their best result came in 1998 with a third place finish, which was the only time the Blazers made it out of the group stage. They did make it through to the Knockout Stage in the Euro 2016 tournament where they fell to Portugal in the first round.
Croatia had a rocky road to qualification, firing their manager during the cycle then soundly defeating Greece in a 4-1 aggregate playoff to clinch a spot in Russia. The Blazers are not a high-scoring team and other than that victory over Greece have scored just 4 other goals total over the last calendar year.
Players to Watch
Electrifying midfielder Luca Modric of Real Madrid will captain a team that has faced adversity both internally and externally throughout the qualification cycle. Modric and fellow midfielder Ivan Rakitic of Barcelona will be the key to Croatia’s attack and finding goals within the group stage. Both are over 30 and this may be the last chance for some of Croatia’s aging stars to reach the knockout stage at a World Cup.
This is Nigeria’s 6th appearance in the last 7 World Cups. Interestingly, this is the 5th time in that span they have been drawn into a group with Argentina. Nigeria advanced to the knockout stage in 1994, 1998, and 2014. The Super Eagles failed to qualify for the last two Africa Cup of Nations tournaments but came in second in the African Nations Championship earlier this year.
Nigeria navigated what looked to be a brutal qualification group with Cameroon and Algeria (who had both qualified for Brazil 2014) and a strong Zambia squad. The Super Eagles scored two massive wins in friendlies over Agentina and Poland in late 2017/early 2018. However, they have been less than impressive in their World Cup tune-ups and have gone 0-1-3 since beating Poland in late March. If Nigeria can tighten things up defensively, they have the talent up front to score some goals and make it through to the Knockout Stage.
Players to Watch
Nigeria features three talented players up front in Chelsea’s Victor Moses, CSKA Moscow’s Ahmed Musa, and Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi. Iowbi scored twice for the Super Eagles in their 4-2 victory over Argentina back in November.
Here are the predictions of the SCB crew (including a special guest appearance by soccer expert SteelSon) on which teams from Group D will advance to the Knockout Stage.