If there’s actually a group of death in this tournament, it’s Group D. One team should be a powerhouse. Two teams are solid. One team has never been here before and could surprise everyone. Buckle in, because this dogfight may not go how you expect it to.
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Argentina is the 5th ranked team in the world, and have the best player alive in Leo Messi. That said, the Argentinians had a rough path to Russia. They struggled throughout qualifying, barely making it through until a win in the final qualifier against Ecuador. And that took a hat trick from Messi to make it reality. They are limping into a group that they should be guaranteed to get through. However, with the way they’ve been playing (HOT TAKE), I don’t think they get through.
How can they move on? It all goes through Messi. In a match against Group D opponent Nigeria back in November, Messi didn’t play. Argentina blew a 2-0 lead to lose 4-2. Then in March, they were trounced 6-1 by Spain. If they don’t have their leading man, they don’t win. Plain and simple. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a guy who hasn’t been able to unlock greatness on the international stage the same way he has at the club level. Their defense isn’t good enough. Sure, they could get through. But Messi will need to average a brace for that to happen.
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This Nigeria team is one of the more talented African teams I’ve seen in some time. They have a strong, young strike force. Led by Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses, and Leicester City pair Ahmed Musa and Kelechi Iheanacho, they should be able to score some goals. The fact that all four of these guys play in the Premier League means they have a similar understanding of each others’ style and approach. In particular, Iwobi and Iheanacho are roommates and relishing their continually developing partnership.
Consistency will be the key to the midfield, with captain Jon Obi Mikel, Ogenyi Onazi, and Wilfred Ndidi all expected to get a run out. If they can control the ball in the middle third, it will unlock plenty of opportunity for their speedster forwards to get into the box with a legitimate opportunity. I’m teetering with this team. I think they certainly have the talent to get through, but their Group D opponents could all find that next gear to beat them. SportsLine has them at 250-1. I have them winning the group. And I feel a little crazy for it.
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Ultimately, Croatia should be the team getting through this group alongside Argentina. However the Croats don’t have the consistency. They certainly have the talent, but they have a tendency to ride peaks and valleys like no other team in this group.
Led by playmaker Luka Modric, the Croatians will need to get in a rhythm early in order to succeed. They kick off match day 1 against Nigeria, and that will need to set the tone for them. They had mixed results against Iceland in the qualifiers, and if it’s up to them to get a result against Iceland on match day 3 in order to get through, they may as well book their ticket home.
Dejan Lovren is going to need to play like he did in the Champions League final. Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic need to show up. Modric will get them the ball in areas nobody thought he’d be able to. It’s up to them to deliver. SportsLine has them at 30-1, but I’m continuing my insanity in Group D and don’t think they make it out.
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The underdog. The feel-good story. The Viking clap. I went in on Iceland on Monday, and I’m very excited to see where they can go. As the week has gone on, I’m feeling more and more confident. They are a young, vibrant team who have somehow gone from being a guaranteed 3 points for their opponent to a mini force who can hold their own against many.
The minnows face no easy matches in Group D. However, led by captain Gylfi Sigurðsson, I think they can sneak into the number 2 spot. I know, I know, I’m nuts. I’m crazy. I’M EXCITED, DAMNIT! Their storybook run in the Euros and a very strong qualifying campaign show that they’re up for the task.
If nothing else, they’re going to bring their 334,000 person nation to the forefront of the world stage. And, come on. Tell me this isn’t awesome. If you do, you’re lying. #Iceland2018
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