Nigeria manager Gernot Rohr talks to his players
Thursday Jun 07, 2018. 16:32
2018 World Cup, Group D
Dates – 16-26 June, 2018
Venues – Moscow, Kaliningrad, Nizhny Novgorod, Volgograd, Saint Petersburg, Rostov-on-Don
Argentina, two-time World Cup champions and runners-up at the last edition four years ago, will have to be on top of their game to make it unscathed through a tough Group D at Russia 2018 which will see them come up against Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria.
The South American heavyweights made hard work of qualifying from the CONMEBOL region and the fact they finished in third behind their two most hated rivals – Brazil and Uruguay – and also collected just two points more than Chile (who missed out on qualification) does not bode well.
Yet Jorge Sampaoli’s side simply cannot be written off, such is the quality they boast in their team. Their forward options include Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala and captain Lionel Messi, a five-time Ballon d’Or winner.
Their first opponents will be debutants Iceland. Ordinarily a World Cup rookie coming up against a former champion like Argentina would be regarded as cannon fodder, but the ‘Vikings’ are not to be underestimated.
Their major tournament debut at Euro 2016 saw them reach the quarterfinals, while their qualification campaign for Russia 2018 ended with them atop a tricky group which also included Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey. Iceland have no household names, but they are a physically powerful team who are well organised and have absolutely nothing to lose.
Croatia will also pose a threat in this group, with the ‘Blazers’ boasting a technically-gifted group of players. Their understated but elegant style is best personified by midfielders Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric – two sublime ball players who are the heartbeats of club teams Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively.
Finally African representatives Nigeria add a touch of unpredictability to this group. The Super Eagles were awesome in qualifying, comfortably finishing atop the ‘group of death’ which included three fellow Africa Cup of Nations winners in Cameroon, Algeria and Zambia.
German manager Gernot Rohr has successfully built a disciplined framework which allows Nigeria’s more gifted players (such as Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho) to thrive and express themselves, but there are still concerns over their defence and the goalkeeper position, where there is no reliable, established number one.
Group D fixtures (all times CAT)
16 June 2018, 15h00 – Argentina v Iceland – Otkritie Arena, Moscow
16 June 2018, 21h00 – Croatia v Nigeria – Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad
21 June 2018, 20h00 – Argentina v Croatia – Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
22 June 2018, 17h00 – Nigeria v Iceland – Volgograd Arena, Volgograd
26 June 2018, 20h00 – Nigeria v Argentina – Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg
26 June 2018, 20h00 – Iceland v Croatia – Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don
Group D head-to-heads (as per FIFA stats database, in reference to ‘home’ team)
Argentina v Iceland – No previous matches
Croatia v Nigeria – No previous matches
Argentina v Croatia – P4 W2 D1 L1 GF4 GA4
Nigeria v Iceland – P1 W0 D0 L1 GF0 GA3
Nigeria v Argentina – P8 W2 D1 L5 GF12 GA13
Iceland v Croatia – P6 W1 D1 L4 GF2 GA11