The 2018 World Cup kicks off in just over six months’ time, but which side will emerge from the pack to lift the famous trophy in Russia? With 32 teams slogging it out for supremacy, Marathonbet takes a closer look at each World Cup finals group in a bid to whittle down the contenders.
Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria
This is being touted as one of the fiercest groups of them all. Each of the teams have a huge shout of winning qualification but of course only two of those sides can go through. One of the most interesting clashes will be Argentina v Croatia, where Barcelona teammates Leo Messi and Ivan Rakitic go head-to-head on the world stage. The pair are so used to complimenting each other in club football, the battle of who can step up best for their country will be intriguing to say the least. Argentina suffered heartbreak in 2014 when narrowly losing the final to Germany and they almost let that disappointment scupper their chances for Russia. They went behind to Ecuador in qualifying and were on the brink of missing a World Cup finals for the first time since 1970. But up stepped Leo Messi with a fantastic hat-trick to ensure his country finished third in the group with automatic qualification sealed.
Iceland, who infamously knocked England out of the 2016 European Championship at the round of 16 stage, have continued their fine form since then. They’ve never appeared at a World Cup tournament but managed to top their qualifying group despite being the smallest country by population to ever make it. Talisman Gylfi Sigurdsson will hope to bring his Premier League experience with Everton to Russia while it is clear the entire squad have complete faith and trust in head coach Heimir Hallgrimsson.
Croatia, as mentioned, have Ivan Rakitic running their midfield engine room but he’s not the only star in their ranks. Real Madrid supremo Luka Modric has been pulling the strings for Los Blancos for a good few seasons now with epic results. He was described recently by Andriy Shevchenko as “one of the best midfielders ever”, which is probably why he’s been a FIFA/FIFPro World XI member and three-times Champions League winner. Croatia themselves achieved their best ever World Cup finish at France 1998 with a semi-final loss and booked their plane tickets for Russia with a 4-1 aggregate play-off win over Greece, ironically after only finishing second in their group behind Iceland!
Nigeria were the first African side to reach Russia and continue their run of consistent qualification. They’ve missed only one tournament, Germany 2006, since first qualifying in 1994. The Super Eagles made the grade with a game to spare and have Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi to thank for the single goal against Zambia in October that secured their place. This turned out to be quite fortunate as FIFA awarded them a 3-0 loss against Algeria in their final group match after fielding an ineligible player, the game originally ending in a 1-1 draw.
Group D top stat:
Argentina and Nigeria will meet for the fifth time in their history in World Cup groups. The South Americans have won all four matches so far: 2-1 in 1994, 1-0 in 2002, 1-0 in 2010 and 3-2 in 2014.
Marathonbet odds for winning the group: Argentina (7/10) Croatia (205/100) Nigeria (8/1) Iceland (10/1). Check the full Group D betting markets here.
When and where can I watch Group D games? And what TV channels are they on?
June 16: Argentina v Iceland (2pm, Moscow, ITV)
June 16: Croatia v Nigeria (8pm, Kaliningrad, BBC)
June 21: Argentina v Croatia (7pm, Nizhny Novgorod, BBC)
June 22: Nigeria v Iceland (4pm, Volgograd, BBC)
June 26: Nigeria v Argentina (7pm, St Petersburg, BBC)
June 26: Iceland v Croatia (7pm, Rostov-on-Don, BBC)