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WORLD CUP 2018 - Group D Preview: Can Messi lead Argentina past Nigeria, Iceland & Croatia?

Up until the first ball is kicked in the Luzhniki Stadium Stadium in Moscow, Tribal will be providing you with in-depth analysis of all the 32 teams that will compete for the Jules Rimet Trophy.

Here are the previews for:

Group A

Group B

Group C

Now let's continue with Group D, which features Argentina, Croatia, Nigeria & Iceland



Argentina

How did they get here?

Lionel Messi's heroic hat-trick in the final qualification game rescued Argentina from the unimaginable reality of missing the World Cup. The two-time champions eventually finished third in South American qualifying and will be desperate to go one better after falling to Germany in the final four years ago.

Who are they?

Manager Jorge Sampaoli will likely set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 or 3-5-2 formation. Trying to form a system around Messi has always been the conundrum for La Albiceleste, and Sampaoli has made no progress in finding the answer. But don't buy into the common notion that Messi is surrounded by an underclass midfield and shoddy defence. Nicolas Otamendi has enjoyed a tremendous season and will likely be joined by Federico Fazio, who finds himself in equally as good form. Lucas Biglia and Ever Banega will work tirelessly in midfield, looking to supply their teammates up top. Getting their attacking talent - Aguero, Di Maria, Higuain and Dybala - to be productive alongside Messi will decide Argentina's fate. Even if they don't click, Messi has proven time and time again that he can carry Argentina on his back.



The young player to watch…

Cristian Pavon. Touted as the new Messi, the 22-year-old linked up well with his idol in a recent friendly win over Haiti. Don't be surprised if he is used often by Sampaoli in Russia.

How will they advance?

Despite the toughness of Group D, Argentina should have no trouble advancing to the knockout stages. The journey from there on will be fraught with danger, but having the world's best player means Argentina are still contenders in Russia.

Group stage fixtures: Iceland (June 16 - Moscow), Croatia (June 21 - Nizhny Novgorod), Nigeria (June 26 - St. Petersburg)

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Willy Caballero (Chelsea), Franco Armani (River Plate), Nahuel Guzman (Tigres).

Defenders: Gabriel Mercado (Sevilla), Federico Fazio (Roma), Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City), Marcos Rojo (Manchester United), Nicolas Taglafico (Ajax), Javier Mascherano (Hebei Fortune), Marcos Acuna (Sporting Lisbon), Cristian Ansaldi (Torino).

Midfielders: Ever Banega (Sevilla), Lucas Biglia (AC Milan), Angel Di María, Giovani Lo Celso (both Paris St-Germain), Manuel Lanzini (West Ham), Cristian Pavon (Boca Juniors), Maximiliano Meza (Independiente), Eduardo Salvio (Benfica).

Forwards: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala (both Juventus), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City).



Croatia

How did they get here?

After finishing second in their group behind Iceland, the Balkan nation defeated Greece in the European play-offs to book their ticket to Russia. Zlatko Dalic replaced Ante Coric with only one qualifying game left and remains in charge for the tournament. Croatia's highest place finish in the World Cup was third place in 1998.

Who are they?

Dalic's team equally as magnificent as it is mystifying. Croatia are capable of utilising their talent to construct beautiful patterns of passing, or with the same pieces, can fall into a disjointed cohort susceptible to poor results. Time, however, may hasten Croatia's resolve to get things right. Their stars - Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic & Mario Mandzukic - are 29-plus and they won't want to miss their chance to emulate their 1998 heroes. The emergence of Sime Vrsaljko and improved play of Dejan Lovren should solidify their defence, while Dalic's depth in midfield is widely envied by the other 31 teams. The efficiency of their 4-3-3 system will be the deciding factor of whether they succeed or fail.



The young player to watch…

Marko Pjaca. Should the 23-year-old make Dalic's final squad, he could make an impact coming off the bench. After spending last season on loan at Schalke, the Juventus winger could also put himself in the shop window with some strong performances.

How will they advance?

Just look at their squad list. Croatia's talent alone should see them through to the knockout stages. The only thing that will prevent it happening is self-sabotage.

Group stage fixtures: Nigeria (June 16 - Kaliningrad), Argentina (June 21 - Nizhny Novgorod), Iceland (June 26 - Rostov-on-Don)

Squad (24-man preliminary):

Goalkeepers: Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Lovre Kalinic (Gent), Dominik Livakovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Karlo Letica (Hajduk Split).

Defenders: Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Domagoj Vida (Besiktas), Ivan Strinic (Sampdoria), Dejan Lovren (Liverpool), Sime Vrsaljko (Atletico Madrid), Josip Pivaric (Dynamo Kyiv), Tin Jedvay (Bayer Leverkusen), Matej Mitrovic (Club Brugge), Borna Barisic (Osijek), Zoran Nizic (Hajduk Split), Duje Caleta-Car (Red Bull Salzburg), Borna Sosa (Dinamo Zagreb).

Midfielders: Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic (both Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Milan Badelj (Fiorentina), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan), Marko Rog (Napoli), Mario Pasalic (Chelsea), Filip Bradaric (Hajduk Split).

Forwards: Mario Mandzukic (Juventus), Ivan Perisic (Inter Milan), Nikola Kalinic (AC Milan), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim), Marko Pjaca (Schalke), Ante Rebic (Eintracht Frankfurt), Duje Cop (Standard Liege), Ivan Santini (Caen).



Nigeria

How did they get here?

Gernot Rohr's squad topped CAF Group B ahead of Zambia, Cameroon and Algeria. The Super Eagles have only missed out on qualifying once for the last six World Cup's. They were knocked out in the last-16 by France four years ago.

Who are they?

Young and talented, Nigeria will head to Russia with plenty of confidence that they can advance in this group. Led by veteran John Obi Mikel in midfield, Rohr's 4-3-3 system will look to unleash Victor Moses, Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi going forward. Mikel will be joined in a formidable midfield trio by Wilfred Ndidi and Joel Obi. The problem for Nigeria starts in goals. First-choice goalkeeper Carl Ikeme hasn't played since announcing his fight with leukaemia, leaving no real quality alternative for Rohr. This could be the deciding factor given the quality of their Group D opponents.



The young player to watch…

Moses Simon. The 22-year-old winger may not start but he'll certainly provide quality off the bench if he can repeat his exploits from club level with Gent.

How will they advance?

Nigeria's deficiencies may have been masked in an easier group. But their faults are more glaring than Argentina or Croatia.

Group stage fixtures: Croatia (June 16 - Kaliningrad), Iceland (June 22 - Volgograd), Argentina (June 26 - St. Petersburg)

Squad (30-man preliminary)

Goalkeepers: Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Enyimba), Daniel Akpeyi (Chippa United), Francis Uzoho (Deportivo Fabril), Dele Ajiboye (Plateau United)

Defenders: William Ekong (Bursaspor), Leon Balogun (Brighton), Olaoluwa Aina (Hull City), Kenneth Omeruo (Kasimpasa), Bryan Idowu (Amkar Perm), Chidozie Awaziem (Nantes), Abdullahi Shehu (Bursaspor), Elderson Echiejile (Cercle Brugge), Tyronne Ebuehi (Ado Den Haag), Stephen Eze (Lokomotiv Plovdiv).

Midfielders: Mikel John Obi (Tianjin Teda), Ogenyi Onazi (Trabzonspor), Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester), Oghenekaro Etebo (Las Palmas), John Ogu (Hapoel Be'er Sheva), Uche Agbo (Standard Liege), Joel Obi (Torino), Mikel Agu (Bursaspor)

Forwards: Ahmed Musa, Kelechi Iheanacho (both Leicester), Moses Simon (Gent), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Odion Ighalo (Changchun Yatai), Alex Iwobi (Arsenal), Junior Lokosa (Kano Pillars), Simeon Nwankwo (Crotone)





Iceland

How did they get here?

Heimir Hallgrimsson's side topped their European qualifying group ahead of Croatia, becoming the smallest nation to qualify for the World Cup in history. And with a population of 335,000, that record is likely never to be broken.

Who are they?

Led by Everton playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson, Iceland will likely play with a flat 4-4-2 formation that has become notoriously difficult to break down. Just ask England what happened at Euro 2016. Cardiff City's Aron Gunnarsson will boss his teammates from the middle of the park and look to spray balls out wide to the effervescent Johann Berg Gudmundsson, who was brilliant for Burnley this season. Veteran duo Kari Arnason and Ragnar Sigurdsson will likely start in central defence. But the key man is Sigurdsson, who has the ability to win a match off his own boot.



The young player to watch…

Albert Gudmundsson. The 20-year-old forward, who snubbed Liverpool & Arsenal four years ago, made seven appearances for PSV Eindhoven this season and could make an impact should he make the final 23.

How will they advance?

Similar to Nigeria, Iceland's faults are exacerbated by the quality of Group D. However, their past against Croatia shows there is hope for them in Russia.

Group stage fixtures: Argentina (June 16 - Moscow), Nigeria (June 22 - Volgograd), Croatia (June 26 - Rostov-on-Don)

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Hannes Halldorsson (Randers), Runar Alex Runarsson (Nordsjaelland), Frederik Schram (Roskilde)

Defenders: Ari Freyr Skulason (Lokeren), Hordur Magnusson (Bristol City), Ragnar Sigurdsson (Rostov), Kari Arnason (Aberdeen), Holmar Orn Eyjolfsson (Levski Sofia), Sverrir Ingi Ingason (Rostov), Birkir Mar Saevarsson (Valur), Samuel Kari Fridjonsson (Valerenga)

Midfielders: Gylfi Sigurdsson (Everton), Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City), Emil Hallfredsson (Udinese), Birkir Bjarnason (Aston Villa), Johann Berg Gudmundsson (Burnley), Olafur Ingi Skulason (Karabukspor), Arnor Ingvi Traustason (Malmo), Rurik Gislason (Sandhausen)

Forwards: Alfred Finnbogason (Augsburg), Bjorn Bergmann Sigurdarson (Rostov), Jon Dadi Bodvarsson (Reading), Albert Gudmundsson (PSV Eindhoven)

Andrew Maclean
About the author

Andrew Maclean

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