2018 World Cup, Group D: Argentina Clear Frontrunners, Croatia Hoping To Make A Mark
Argentina and Lionel Messi would be hoping to put a torrid qualification race behind them and make this FIFA World Cup a special one.
- Croatia's midfield is one of the best in international football
- Iceland is the smallest nation by population to qualify for World Cup
- An impressive qualifying campaign booked Nigeria's place in Russia
The FIFA World Cup is always an incredible spectacle as it gathers all the best players in the world for a football festival that lasts one amazing month. Hosts Russia will take on Saudi Arabia in the opening match of the quadrennial event in which 32 teams will fight for the title to be called world's best. The teams have been divided into eight groups of four each and Group D will be one of the most entertaining to watch as it contains arguably the greatest football player of all time. This group appears to be the so-called 'Group of Death', with Argentina, Croatia, Nigeria and Iceland all fighting to reach the knockout stages.
Group D teams: Argentina, Croatia, Iceland, Nigeria
Now, let us get to know more about this collection of teams that make up perhaps the most entertaining group of the tournament.
A turbulent qualification campaign saw Argentina book their place at the last opportunity with a victory over Ecuador, but the losing finalists in 2014 will be looking to go one better. However, a Lionel Messi-less side's 1-6 loss to Spain in March suggests that this is a big ask. They are most certainly not a one-man team but Lionel Messi scored at least five more goals than any other Argentinian in qualification and will, of course, be marked heavily in every game that Argentina play.
Chelsea's Willy Caballero, following an injury to Sergio Romero, is Argentina's first choice goalkeeper and is protected by former Barcelona defender Javier Mascherano and Manchester City's Nicolas Otamendi.
Captain: Lionel Messi
Head coach:Jorge Sampaoli
FIFA ranking: 5
World Cup appearances:16
Best finish: Champions in 1978 and 1986
Players to watch: Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala
16 June: vs. Iceland at Spartak Stadium, Moscow
21 June: vs. Croatia at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
26 June: vs. Nigeria at Saint Petersburg Stadium, St Petersburg
Since reaching the semi-finals at France 1998, Croatia have failed to make it out of the group. Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic are exciting creative options for coach Zlatko Dalic, who was brought in at the end of qualification to steer Croatia to Russia. They have made it to the quarter-finals of the European Championships twice but have never won an international tournament.
Croatia's midfield is one of the best in international football containing Real Madrid's Modric and Mateo Kovacic along with Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic and Inter Milan's Ivan Perisic and Marcelo Brozovic.
Captain: Luka Modric
Head coach: Zlatko Dalic
FIFA ranking: 18
World Cup appearances: 4
Best finish:Third place in 1998
Players to watch: Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mateo Kovacic
16 June: vs. Nigeria at Kaliningrad Stadium in Kaliningrad
21 June: vs. Argentina at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
26 June: vs. Iceland at Rostov Arena, Rostov-On-Don
The smallest nation by population ever to qualify for the World Cup finals, Iceland followed up their Euro 2016 heroics by topping a group featuring Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey. However, Everton star Gylfi Sigurdsson's knee injury is an unwanted concern heading into the tournament.
Incredibly, this is only Iceland's second-ever appearance at an international tournament, their first at the World Cup. They may have very few household names but they will definitely be ready to cause an upset.
Captain: Aron Gunnarsson
Head coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson
FIFA ranking: 22
World Cup appearances:None
Best finish: 2018 is Iceland's debut
Players to watch: Gylfi Sigurdsson, Alfred Finnbogason, Kolbeinn Sigborsson
16 June: vs. Argentina at Spartak Stadium, Moscow
22 June: vs. Nigeria at Volgograd Arena, Volgograd
26 June: vs. Croatia at Rostov Arena, Rostov-On-Don
An impressive qualifying campaign booked Nigeria's place in Russia. The Super Eagles have only missed one of the last seven tournaments but 2014's victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina was their first since 1998. Nigeria have never made it past the last 16 at the World Cup and were knocked out four years ago in Brazil by France.
This will be Nigeria's 6th World Cup and they will be desperate to please the millions of African fans supporting them from around the world.
Captain:John Obi Mikel
Head coach:Gernot Rohr
FIFA ranking: 47
World Cup appearances:Five
Best finish: Round of 16 in 1994, 1998 and 2014
Players towatch:John Obi Mikel, Kelechi Iheanacho, Wilfred Ndidi.
16 June: vs. Croatia at Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad
22 June: vs. Iceland at Volgograd Arena, Volgograd
26 June: vs. Argentina at Saint Petersburg Stadium, St Petersburg