Some call the World Cup the most important international sports event on the planet. It makes sense. Although in the United States, we’re gaga over football, basketball, and baseball, the rest of the world goes nuts over soccer. The rest of the world is soccer crazy, which makes the 2018 World Cup easily the most important sports event this year.
In this blog, I preview Group D, one of the most competitive groups in the 2018 World Cup. Argentina is a less than -200 favorite over +225 Croatia. For an obvious reason, the great Lionel Messi, Argentina is considered a favorite to not only win Group D, but to also win the World Cup. Meanwhile, Croatia is loaded like always.
Will Argentina take Group D? What are Croatia’s chances of upsetting Messi and his crew? Do the other participants in Group D, Nigeria and Iceland, have any shot of upsetting the two favorites? Keep reading for my 2018 World Cup Group D preview.
2018 World Cup: Group D Preview
Four years ago in Brazil, the Argentinians lost to the Germans in the World Cup Final. Once again, Argentina is led by arguably the very best soccer player to ever hit the pitch, the great Lionel Messi. The 5′ 7″ and 159 lbs Messi, is as dominant as ever heading into the World Cup.
For Argentina to win Group D, though, they must lean on a player other than Messi. Javier Mascherano returns. Because Sergio Ramos is out, Argentina will most likely lean on Willy Caballero in goal.
A couple of other known Argentinians can step up on the offensive side. Sergio Aguero is a fantastic striker while Gonzalo Higuan had a shot to score a goal versus Germany in the 2014 World Cup Final. Neither were 100%. Both appear 100% heading to Russia. Angel Di Maria is another known player that could help Argentina in the 2018 World Cup.
Croatia is a serious challenger to Argentina to win Group D. Just look at their odds. The Croatians have one of the most experienced teams in the 2018 World Cup. Ivan Rakitic leads arguably the top midfield in the tournament. Rakitic plays for Barcelona. He’s used to the big stage.
Rakitic isn’t the only player on the Croatian side that could rock it in the World Cup. Luka Modric is a midfielder with Real Madrid while Ivan Perisic is a forward for Inter Milan. Marcelo Brozovic also plays for Inter Milan.
With such an incredibly deep team, the Croatians figure to challenge Argentina for the Group D win. Can Croatia put it all together in Russia? Or, will Croatia fold like they did in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil when they failed to advance past the Group Stage?
Leicester City star Kelechi Iheanacho will most likely have to take over a few games for the Nigerian’s to win Group D. Iheanacho is an excellent striker. Victor Moses, a defender at Chelsea, will roam the midfield during the World Cup.
The key for Nigeria is for Moses and Iheanacho to work in unison. It’s also important that the front four protects the backline. Nigeria’s defense isn’t as good as Croatia’s. It’s not close to being as talented as Iceland’s. That means the Nigerians’ best hope of beating their Group D opponents will be to outscore those opponents.
Iceland topped Croatia, Ukraine, and Turkey in Euro Group 1 to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Iceland is the smallest nation that enters the World Cup. One thing to note about Iceland is that their defense is stellar. Iceland plays with 10 men behind the ball. They only break out on offense when it suits them.
One would think that style of soccer would lead to disaster. Not so. Iceland has 8 players that are over 6 feet tall. Playing a defensive game is the best way for them to control smaller, quicker, players.
Is Argentina a Lock to Move to the Round of 16?
On one hand, Argentina appears destined for at least a Group D win or second place finish. Lionel Messi might be the greatest player of all time. But, Messi alone isn’t the only reason to be bullish on Argentina. Argentina’s defense yielded less than a goal per game during qualifying. The Argentinian D appears even more stout than it was 4 years ago. That could make Argentina’s defense close to impenetrable, at least during the Group Stage.
Another reason to love Argentina’s chances is because their head coach, Jorge Sampaoli, has already done a lot more with less. Sampaoli coached Chile to the Round of 16 in Brazil. Chile tied Brazil and only lost via penalty kicks in their Round of 16 match. If Sampaoli could get Chile to the Round of 16, and a near victory over home team Brazil in the 2014 World Cup, what can he do with the best player of all time running his offense?
That’s the key for Argentina. How well can Sampaoli get La Abiceleste to gel? If he can get everyone on the same page, Argentina appears to be a lock to make it to the Round of 16. If Sampaoli can’t get Argentina to play together the Croatians, or one of the underdog squads, could take down one of the favorites to win the World Cup before the Round of 16.
What are Croatia’s Real Chances of Winning Group D?
Croatia appears set to make a run for the Group D win. After all, their midfield is loaded. It doesn’t get any better than Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic, and Ivan Rakitic. Just those 3 alone could lead Croatia to the Group victory over the usually blessed Argentinians.
But, outside of Croatia’s immensely talented midfield, the frontline and backline aren’t all that special. In fact, Croatia had trouble versus Iceland, a team that shows up in Group D. Croatia could also find itself struggling to defend against Nigeria’s potent attack. When it comes to Croatia versus Argentina, things could get ugly. Argentina is powerful in all 3 lines: frontline, midfield, and backline. Croatia might stumble.
Then again, experience means a lot in the World Cup. If Croatia can use their vast league experience, there’s a lot of pressure playing for squads like Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Inter Milan, in addition to their international experience, they could win Group D.
I’m just not sold on the Croatians at +225. Fair odds are more likely around +450.
Can Nigeria Finally Break Through at a World Cup?
Russia will be Nigeria’s sixth World Cup in the past 24 years. That’s not bad at all. Since the 1994 World Cup in the United States, Nigeria has only missed out once, the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Of their 6 World Cups, Nigeria has made it to the Round of 16 three times: 1994 World Cup USA, 1998 World Cup France, and 2014 World Cup Brazil.
However, the Nigerians have never gotten past the Round of 16. Can the Nigerians break through in Russia? Doubtful. Although Nigeria’s got a ton of pace on offense, they most definitely don’t have the defense to stop either the Croatians or Argentinians from putting up 2 to 3 goals.
Also, beating Iceland isn’t a given. Iceland’s defense should frustrate Nigeria’s offense. That means there’s a good chance Nigeria finishes in last place in Group D.
Will Iceland Build Upon Their Surprising 2016 UEFA Euro Run?
Iceland’s shocking win over England at the 2016 Euro wasn’t all that shocking. The Icelandic play such a devastating, boring, brand of soccer that the English had no recourse but to force some things. That played right into Iceland’s hands.
After beating England in the Round of 16, though, the French dominated Iceland 5 to 2. The reason is because Iceland found itself down to France. Being a defensive team means that you can’t get down even a single goal. That forces you to change some things. Once you change your style, you could get squashed.
World Cup Group D Predictions
The closer I look at Group D, the more it becomes obvious that Messi and Argentina will dominate. The real key for Argentina was hiring coach Jorge Sampaoli. Although Argentina’s goalie Sergio Ramos is hurt, both Higuan and Romero are healthy. So is Angel Di Maria and the great Messi.
I think Argentina has a shot to win the World Cup. I’m placing them on top in Group D. The Croatians should finish second. But, I believe Croatia’s internal politics could do them in. Also, it could backfire at the World Cup if you’ve got too many star players on your squad.
I think Iceland finishes second to Argentina.
Second Place: Iceland