It is less than a month until the 2018 FIFA World Cup gets underway, and on the journey to Russia, we will be previewing a selection of groups, analysing their star players, ones to watch, and their chances of winning the most prestigious tournament in international football.
Today we take a look at Group D. Argentina come into this group as heavy favourites, but the other three teams know how to pull off an upset every now and then.
Road to the World Cup: Finished 3rd in CONMEBOL on 28 points. Argentina found difficulty when it came to qualifying, only gaining their spot in the tournament on the final day of qualification, with a 3-1 win over Ecuador.
World Cup History: Winners (1978, 1986), Runners Up (1930, 1990, 2014).
Key Player: Leo Messi
One of the greatest of all time, Messi is the obvious star man for Argentina, and he will be hoping to lift his first senior international trophy at the age of 31 (his birthday is the 24th of June). During his time for the senior squad, the Barcelona attacker has scored 61 goals in 123 appearances, and he will be hoping to add to that tally in Russia this summer.
One to Watch: Giovani Lo Celso
The 22-year-old has made quite the impression since breaking out into the PSG squad in recent years, and has been able to gain experience for the national side too, making four appearances since the start of 2017. Lo Celso can play in both central midfield, and in a more attacking role behind the striker, meaning he could be a key asset to Argentina’s attacking prowess throughout the tournament.
Chances of winning? After finishing as runners up at the last World Cup, it seems as though Argentina won’t be finding such success this year, but with the star power possessed by Jorge Sampaoli, there is no reason why Argentina cannot challenge the likes of Brazil and Germany, at least in a battle of attack.
Road to the World Cup: Winning a play off encounter with Greece. Finished 2nd in their qualification group behind fellow Group D contenders Iceland.
World Cup History: Semi Final (1998)
Key Player: Luka Modric
The 32-year-old has made 104 appearances for his nation, and with the experience gained throughout his career, there is no reason why Modric can’t continue to showcase his technical ability in the heart of the Croatian midfield this summer. Coming off the back of a Champions League win with Real Madrid, Modric will be at an all time high and with this potentially being his last time to play in the biggest tournament in international football, the former Tottenham midfielder will be pulling out all the stops to qualify his side into the knockout rounds, and hopefully as close to the final as possible.
One to Watch: Ivan Perisic
The Inter Milan winger has been representing his national side at senior level since 2011, making 64 appearances and scoring 17 goals. The 29-year-old is a player who isn’t really discussed much on a global level, but the former Dortmund man has impressed wherever he has gone and will be an important player for Croatia this summer.
Chances of winning? Croatia’s main focus will be getting out of Group D, which they should be doing. Anything more than the round of 16 would be a huge success for Croatia this summer.
Road to the World Cup: Winners of their qualification group, ahead of Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey.
World Cup History: This is their first World Cup.
Key Player: Gylfi Sigurdsson
The Everton man has made 55 appearances for his national team, scoring 18 times. Sigurdsson is a midfield maestro, showing his technical ability for Swansea and Tottenham before signing for Everton for a reported £40 million. The 28-year-old represented Iceland at their first major international tournament, EURO 2016, where the underdogs reached the quarter finals. Sigurdsson will be a force to be reckoned with in the heart of the Iceland midfield, and could also play a role out wide, meaning the defenders from all three opponents in Group D could be in for a real rollercoaster ride.
One to Watch: Johann Berg Gudmonsson
The Burnley winger has represented Iceland 65 times since 2008, scoring on seven occasions. Gudmonsson also represented Iceland at EURO 2016, and his impressive performances allowed him to show off his talent in the Premier League, and he has found a large amount of success with Burnley this season, being one of their star players in a very successful season for the Clarets.
Chances of winning? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, for Iceland to get out of this group would be a huge achievement in itself, and for them to get any further would be a miracle, but who knows? They’ve pulled off a few shocks before…
Road to the World Cup: Finished first in their qualification group, ahead of Zambia, Cameroon and Algeria.
World Cup History: Round of 16 (1994, 1998, 2014).
Key Player: Alex Iwobi
If there’s one thing this Nigeria side can do, it is score goals, and Alex Iwobi is certainly a player who is capable of doing just that. The 22-year-old has made 15 appearances for Nigeria since 2015, and despite being a fairly newcomer to this Nigeria side, he has the experience of playing against some of the best footballers in the world during his time in the Premier League with Arsenal. This experience and his technical prowess will be crucial if Nigeria have any hope of making it out of the group stages.
One to Watch: Odion Ighalo
Remember him? The 28-year-old used to play for Watford, where he found a very brief amount of success, winning a Player of the Month award in December of 2015. He ended the 2015-16 season with 17 goals in all competitions, but has since left Watford and is now playing for Changchun Yatai in China. The former Udinese striker certainly knows where the back of the net is, and alongside players like Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho, Ighalo could once again find the kind of form which gave him so much success in his early days as a Premier League player.
Chances of winning? Despite being in the same group as Iceland who have never competed at a World Cup before, Nigeria may be the least likely to make it out of Group D. Their issue comes in the form of their defence, which is a stark comparison to the force they have in attack. This dodgy defence could be very costly when coming up against the likes of Messi, Aguero, Mandzukic and Sigurdsson.
So there you have it, Group D is certainly going to be one to keep an eye on. Here is how I think the group will end: