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World Cup 2018 Group D Preview: Albiceleste backed for top spot over Vatreni

  • We're looking ahead to this summer's World Cup with our Group D preview
  • All eyes on Lionel Messi as he looks to shine on the biggest stage of all

Will Lionel Messi finally get his hands on international silverware? (credit: Getty Images)

World Cup 2018 Group D Preview. Lionel Messi will be desperate to shine on the biggest stage of all and his Argentina side are expected to top Group D with Croatia, Nigeria and Iceland fighting to progress alongside them.

Group D Fixtures

Match 7
16 June 2018
1pm BST
Argentina v Iceland
Otkrytiye Arena, Moscow

Match 8
16 June 2018
8pm BST
Croatia v Nigeria
Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad

Match 23
21 June 2018
6pm BST
Argentina v Croatia
Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod

Match 24
22 June 2018
3pm BST
Nigeria v Iceland
Volgograd Arena, Volgograd

Match 39
26 June 2018
6pm BST
Nigeria v Argentina
Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg

Match 40
26 June 2018
6pm BST
Iceland v Croatia
Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don


Although they required a Lionel Messi hat-trick to avoid an embarrassing failure to qualify for the tournament, Argentina will still head to Russia as one of the favourites to get their hands on the trophy last year and it's not difficult to see why. La Albiceleste have always been one of the major players in international football, having twice won this tournament and they possess one of the strongest squads at the moment too with stars like Lionel Messi, Paulo Dybala and Sergio Aguero to be involved for them this summer.

As has been the case for quite some time now, Argentina's struggles lie defensively rather than going forward and they may even struggle to find the right balance between their quality attack and less impressive backline. After reaching the final in the home of their arch-rivals Brazil four years ago only to be beaten in Extra Time at the hands of Germany, they will be as motivated as anyone to get their hands on the famous trophy in Russia.

Key man: Lionel Messi. Who else? Lionel Messi has already confirmed himself to be among the greatest players of all time but of course, the one thing lacking from his trophy cabinet which includes countless domestic and personal honours, is an international medal. He appears to be revelling in the extra responsibility of being his nation's captain but can he lead them to long-awaited World Cup glory in Europe this summer?


After their phenomenal performances at the European Championships, their first ever international tournament two years ago, Iceland head to Russia for their first World Cup finals this summer. Strakarnir Okkar performed above all expectations to reach the semi-finals in France before being knocked out by the hosts, but they put in some magnificent performances to reach the final eight stage, including their second round victory over Roy Hodgson's England, a defeat which will live long in the memory of Three Lions supporters.

Heimir Hallgrimsson appeared to have been handed a tough assignment in guiding the team through a qualifying group that included Turkey, Croatia and Ukraine following Lars Lagerback's appointment to the Norway job, but he led his nation to top spot and they're really riding on the crest of a wave in terms of momentum surrounding the national game at the moment. Can they continue that with more big performances this summer?

Key man: Gylffi Sigurdsson. Since moving from Swansea to Everton last summer it's fair to say that Sigurdsson hasn't quite managed to produce his best form in domestic football, but with 55 appearances and 18 goals to his name, he remains his nation's most productive and creative player. He's also arguably his side's biggest goal threat with the capability of long range strikes making him a real threat to the rest of the defences in Group D.


Given the quality that is in this Croatia squad, it's perhaps surprising that they have consistently underperformed when it comes to international tournaments in recent years but Zlatko Dalic is hoping to be the man who can get the best out of this talented group of players following the dismissal of Ante Cacic. The 51 year old managed to negotiate a tricky play-off fixture against Greece to secure his side's route into the finals and now he'll be hoping to get the most out of them in the pressure cooker of tournament football this summer.

In the European Championships in France Vatreni found themselves dumped out of the competition in the second round by eventual winners Portugal from a Ricardo Quaresma goal in the final minute of extra-time. Many of their key players like Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic and Danijel Subasic may perhaps see this as their final chance to perform to the best of their abilities in a World Cup, so there's plenty riding on this tournament for the men in red and white.

Key man: Luka Modric. Since Darijo Srna's international retirement in 2016, Luka Modric has led this Vatreni outfit and he looks to lead by example by setting the tempo in the middle of the park. The Real Madrid midfielder has experience of playing at the very top from his time with los Blancos and would be selected in most fans and pundits' best XI in the world right now, so Croatian hopes will rely on him for some quality in the middle of the park this summer.


Nigeria must be sick of the sight of Argentina at international tournaments. In their five previous World Cup tournaments the Super Eagles have had to come up against the South American giants on four occasions and now they will face them for a fifth time in Russia this summer. In reality though, Gernot Rohr's men will be likely targeting second place in the group and they'll feel they have what it takes to get the better of Croatia and Iceland here.

In qualifying, the African side managed to overcome a below-par Algeria and Cameroon in their final CAF round and encouragingly, they even managed a win over Argentina in their final friendly fixture of 2017. A real issue however for Rohr will be lack of tournament experience in what is a talented but young squad. The experience of players like John Obi Mikel and Elderson Echiejile will prove vital in helping along talented kids like Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi.

Key Man: Kelechi Iheanacho. Although Kelechi Iheanacho's move to Leicester City hasn't exactly gone to plan as he's struggled for first team chances and goalscoring form this season, he remains Nigeria's prodigy at the moment having already racked up eight goals in his first 14 caps for the first team. The 21 year old will look to link up with Arsenal's Alex Iwobi and Ahmed Musa in a pacey and youthful attack that could spring a few surprises in Russia.

Group D betting tips

There's no doubt that Argentina are the strongest team in this group despite their very real struggles for consistency in the qualifying section. Even though the remaining three teams in the group certainly have the attacking players to trouble them, la Albiceleste should have enough firepower to top this group by beating all three of their opponents when you look at that front three of Aguero, Dybala and Messi.

After Argentina this remains one of the more difficult groups to foresee but like the bookmakers, we expect Vatreni to beat the competition and secure second spot in the group. Nigeria's lack of experience will hold them back and whilst Iceland's incredible work ethic and team spirit has taken them this far, it won't be able to match up to the superior quality of players like Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic.

Argentina/Croatia Straight Forecast at 13/8 with BetStars


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World Cup 2018 Group D Preview: Albiceleste backed for top spot over Vatreni

World Cup 2018 Group D Preview. Lionel Messi will be desperate to shine on the biggest stage of all and his Argentina side are expected to top Group D with Croatia, Nigeria and Iceland fighting to progress alongside them.

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