World Cup - Group D Analysis05.06.2018 08:37:51
We take a detailed look at the teams who make up World Cup Group D.
Strengths: Arguably the best forward line in the world.
Weaknesses: Seem to struggle to cope with expectations, having lost three consecutive major finals and struggled to qualify for this World Cup.
La Albiceleste qualified for the World Cup after enduring a disappointing qualifying campaign that saw them finish third in the South American qualifiers and being under threat of missing out on a World Cup place until the very last round.
Jorge Sampaoli, who took over last year, has a tough task of trying to steady a side severely lacking in balance - his attacking options are so strong that Mauro Icardi missed out on a place in the squad, but the same kind of quality is simply not available in the defensive part of the pitch.
The upcoming competition is seen as Lionel Messi's last opportunity to cover himself in glory with his national team, with the Barcelona talisman guiding Argentina to a place in the final in 2014, where they were beaten by Germany in extra-time. Interestingly enough, it was their third consecutive World Cup campaign which ended in a defeat to the same opponents.
The latest defeat to the Germans was followed by two consecutive Copa America final defeats to Chile, the second of which even caused Messi to publicly quit the national team, a decision that he later reversed.
Unlike in 2014, Argentina are not seen as one of the prime favourites to win the tournament, and this could actually work to their advantage in a way, as they clearly struggled to cope with expectations in the last decade, having suffered several defeats to inferior opposition, especially in their continental championship.
What is rather clear is that this will be the last World Cup for the majority of their key players, with Javier Mascherano being 33 and Messi, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria, Ever Banega and Nicolas Otamendi all being 30. It remains to be seen if this generation can finally go all the way in what will certainly be their swan song at the biggest of stages.
Target: Their goal will be to go all the way and win their first World Cup since 1986. They are currently rated as the fifth favourites to win the tournament by the bookmakers, behind Germany, Brazil, France and Spain, but are a quality side and cannot be written off.
Strengths: Have a majestic team spirit and are full of optimism following their excellent EURO 2016 run and a superb qualifying campaign.
Weaknesses: Their squad is rather limited in terms of quality of the players and they cannot really compete with Argentina and Croatia in this regard.
Iceland put themselves under the spotlight of the global footballing public thanks to a heroic EURO 2016 campaign that saw them beat England in the round of 16 before falling to a graceful quarter-final defeat to France.
Being a country with a population of only 330,000, Iceland never faced any sort of pressure by their domestic public to deliver and one could have been forgiven for thinking that their EURO campaign was a one-off. Their head coach Heimir Hallgrimsson still worked as a part-time dentist until after the EURO, when he finally fully dedicated himself to his role with the national team.
Drawn in a tough World Cup qualifying group together with Croatia, Turkey and Ukraine, Iceland seemed set to battle for second in the group, but they once again defied the expectations and managed to qualify for the World Cup by beating Croatia to the top spot by two points.
Their squad contains no names that would be recognised by a casual football fan apart from perhaps Everton man Gylfi Sigurdsson, but they now have numerous players with experience of playing in the European top leagues and the core of their squad has been unchanged for years now.
Of course, other sides are bound to take notice of their recent success and take them more seriously than their rivals at the EURO have. Having said that, they have shown in the qualifiers that they can be a match for Croatia and, having been drawn together with the Blazers again, will be hoping to repeat the trick.
Target: Iceland have done well to qualify for the World Cup by topping their qualifying group and are under no pressure to deliver. However, they have been defying expectations for years now and will certainly be hoping of making the knock-out stage.
Strengths: Their midfield and attack are littered with quality players who play key roles for some of the biggest clubs in the world.
Weaknesses: A lack of balance, given that their back five is not really at the level of the remainder of the team.
Croatia are coming from a turbulent qualifying campaign which saw them have a managerial change less than 48 hours before their final group stage game. The change proved fruitful, as they overcame Ukraine away in their final game to finish second in the group and then eased past Greece in the play-offs, claiming a 4:1 aggregate victory.
The perception of their domestic public was that their side had no business struggling to qualify, given the quality of their squad, and it is rather difficult to argue with that assessment, as former boss Ante Cacic struggled to win the group with a side containing players such as Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic.
Since finishing third in the 1998 World Cup, Croatia have not had much joy in the world's biggest international football tournament, having failed to qualify for the 2010 championship and having failed to make it out of their group in 2002, 2006 and 2014.
Their failure in 2014 was seen as a particularly large disappointment, but they did have a decent EURO 2016 campaign and played some impressive football before being knocked out by eventual winners Portugal after extra-time.
While certainly showing glimpses of quality, their current crop of players is yet to achieve something truly memorable. With the majority of their key players being at the peak of their powers going into this tournament, their current squad will see the upcoming World Cup as their big opportunity to really carve their names in the history of Croatian football.
Target: This is widely seen as Croatia’s most talented generation since that which finished third in the 1998 World Cup, and their most optimistic fans will be dreaming of a repeat of that run. Realistically, making it out of the group will be seen as a minimum requirement for the Blazers.
Strengths: A decent team chemistry and a habit of winning, having done rather well in their competitive games over the last two years.
Weaknesses: Several of their key players are coming off disappointing seasons with their clubs.
Nigeria have been coached by Gernot Rohr in 2016 and have performed rather well under the German manager, having easily topped their qualifying group. They also did reasonably well in this year's African Cup of Nations, with the sole blemish on Rohr's reign so far being the heavy defeat that his side suffered against Morocco in the final of the competition.
The Super Eagles are now preparing themselves for their fifth-ever World Cup participation, with their previous four seeing them twice manage to reach the knock-out stage. Most recently, they made it out of a group containing Argentina, Bosnia and Iran and gave France a decent run for their money in the round of 16, but eventually suffered a 2:0 defeat.
They are now drawn in a far tougher group, with Croatia being a far stronger side than their Balkan rivals Bosnia, whilst what will worry them is that several of their key players seem to be on a bit of a decline.
An exception to this is Victor Moses, who has had a good season with Chelsea. Jon Obi Mikel and Odion Ighalo spent the last year playing in the Chinese top flight, whilst Kelechi Iheanacho and Ahmed Musa have both struggled for playing time for Leicester City. The latter would go on to spend the second half of the season at CSKA Moscow, where he performed well.
The Super Eagles are normally a side that tends to keep things tight at the back and it is no surprise that 7 of their last 9 games ended with two or fewer goals being scored over 90 minutes. However, things tend to get rather ugly for them when they concede fist and, given the quality of their group rivals, Rohr is unlikely to give up on his “safety first” approach.
Target: While Argentina and Croatia definitely look like favourites to make it out of the group, the Super Eagles are not without their chances and will hope to repeat their 2014 result and making the knock-out round.
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