Group D Teams: Nigeria, Iceland, Croatia, Argentina
The Super Eagles have already made a splash with their new jersey becoming a pop culture phenomenon even before it officially went on sale. But it is not just the jersey you have to look out for. Nigeria have an attack-heavy squad and will be looking to be the ones drawing first blood. Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho, Wilfred Ndidi, Victor Moses and captain Jon Obi Mikel all make up the forward line of manager Gernot Rohr’s 4-3-3. Nigeria are guilty of being too dependent on their forwards though and the chances of them conceding on the counter is high. This makes a match between them and Argentina an exciting prospect.
This Iceland squad might just go down as the best the country has ever produced and with good reason. They followed up their Euro 2016 run with finishing at the top of their World Cup qualification group. Iceland have mostly stuck to a 4-4-2 with the Gylfi Sigurdsson often dropping back from his no. 10 positions to assist the defence. They don’t have a proper goal scoring striker which means that they will be dependent on set-pieces – and Sigurdsson’s sniper-like precision in dead-ball situations – to score goals. At the same time, Iceland have not deviated too much from what they did in Euros which means that breaching their defence would be no easy task. Ask England.
They had to qualify through the playoffs due to Iceland topping their group table. Croatia under Ante Cacic and Zlatko Dalic have used a 4-3-3 that sometimes switches to an effective 4-2-3-1 when Luka Modric or Ivan Rakitic push up to provide support in attack. Croatia are the more balanced side in this group with only the holding midfield aspect looking weak. Fiorentina’s Milan Badelj seems to be the only true defensive midfielder in the squad with Mateo Kovacic showing this year at Real Madrid that he is better going forward. This means that the Croat defence should be prepared to take some extra pressure and thus, a loss against Nigeria in their opening match could very well lead to them being knocked out in the group stage.
‘Wild’ is the word that comes to mind when trying to describe La Albiceleste’s journey to World Cup qualification. Their entire campaign in the CONMEBOL qualification round robin came down to the final match against Ecuador. They conceded in the early minutes and it was Lionel Messi’s hat-trick that bailed them out. The fact that they dropped Inter captain Mauro Icardi is a testimony to the attacking riches they have and yet, they were the second lowest scoring team in the qualifiers. They may be the most recognisable name in their group with some of the best players in the world making the squad, but Argentina are also arguably the most unpredictable. Jorge Sampaoli has been inconsistent with his formations and this has led to wildly fluctuating performances. This makes predicting Argentina’s trajectory in Russia a rather difficult task. From being knocked out of the group stage without a single win to going on to winning the World Cup itself, anything is possible with this team.