The Russian World Cup is almost here, as a global army of football fans prepare for the most prestigious tournament in football.
In this post, we'll take a closer look at Group D and try to determine which two sides are likely to prevail.
WORLD CUP 2018 GROUP D BETTING PREVIEW
We start with Argentina, easily the group’s best side with an overall FIFA ranking of four. Not only do they have one of the best squads in the world, but in Jorge Sampaoli they also have a progressive and attacking manager who is able to get the best out of Argentina's supremely talented group of individuals.
Surprisingly, the side struggled to even reach the finals in Russia, falling behind in a must-win game against Ecuador before being rescued by a brilliant Lionel Messi hat-trick. This match perfectly encapsulated the Argentinian side, with an occasionally suspect and questionable defence overshadowed by a blistering attack. Led by their incomparable captain Messi, La Albiceleste's squad also includes stars such as Angel De Maria, Sergio Agüero and the precocious Paulo Dybala.
Argentina also have history on their side, previously reaching a total of four World Cup finals and triumphed in 1978 and 1986. They were also runners-up in Brazil during the 2014 finals, and we'd certainly expect them to reach the knockout stages this time around.
The Albiceleste endured nervy qualification campaign saw one of world football's great powers book their place at the last opportunity with victory over Ecuador. They faced the dire possibility of missing out on a World Cup for the first time since 1970, but were save by a Lionel Messi's hat-trick. The team were unreliable in qualifying and it is up to Sampaoli to make them stronger in defence. They only played a friendly match last March, beating Italy 2-0 in Manchester, courtesy of goals scored by Manuel Lanzini and Ever Banega.
The modern iteration of the Croatian side was formed in 1990, against a backdrop of civil war and unrest in Yugoslavia. Despite this, they've managed to make an early mark on the international stage, claiming an impressive third place finish on their World Cup debut in France in 1998.
Currently managed by Zlatko Dalic, Croatia are the second seeds in Group D and currently ranked by FIFA as the 15th best side in the world. Although they've endured some recent ups and downs and, significantly, failed to progress beyond the group stages at a World Cup since their glorious debut in 1998 - they possess some outstanding individual quality in the form of stylish midfielders Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.
The influential Luka Modric is also the captain, while in-form winger Ivan Perišic will also be pivotal if Croatia are to reach the knockout stages.
Croatia dispatched Greece 4-1 on aggregate in a dominated play-off. Prior to that, they won 2-0 in Ukraine in Zlatko Dalic's first game in charge. They have failed to make it out of their group on their last three appearances since reaching the semi-finals at France 98. In the most recent warm-up games, they suffered a 2-0 defeat against Peru and won 1-0 against Mexico back in March.
For such a small nation, with a population of just 334,252, Iceland have certainly punched miles above their weight during the last few years. Having reached their first ever major tournament at the 2016 European Championships (where they beat England to reach the quarter-finals), they're now preparing to make their World Cup debut in Russia this summer.
The smallest nation ever to claim a World Cup berth, Iceland have thrived under the stewardship of manager (and part-time dentist) Heimir Hallgrímsson to become one of the most competitive and organised teams at elite level. If they're to deliver on their potential, however, they'll need to rely heavily on their influential captain Aron Gunnarsson, while energetic midfielder Birkir Bjarnason is also pivotal to their defensive strength and robust counter-attacking style.
Iceland followed up their Euro 2016 heroics by topping a group featuring Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey. They qualified for their first ever World Cup by beating Kosovo 2-0 in their final match of the group.
Interestingly, Iceland qualified for the finals ahead of Croatia in Group I, finishing two points clear of their rivals and recording a crucial 1-0 home win in June 2017. They suffered back to back defeats at the hands of Mexico (3-0) and Peru (3-1) in two friendlies played last March.
We end with group D’s outsiders Nigeria, who will kick-off their campaign against Croatia in Kaliningrad on the 16th of June. While the Super Eagles may be around 12/1 to win the group, the combined experience of manager Salisu Yusuf and captain John Obi Mikel should ensure that they're at least competitive against their talented group rivals.
Nigeria certainly qualified for the World Cup in style, winning their group by five points ahead of second placed Zambia. Their recent history at World Cup finals is also quite impressive. Though the Super Eagles failed to qualify prior to 1994, they've appeared in five of the six tournaments since and even reached the knockout stages in 1994, 1998 and last time out in 2014.
Nigeria managed to beat Poland 1-0 in an international Friendly last March but lost to Serbia 2-0 a couplay of days later.
The Super Eagles also have the fearlessness of youth on their side, with an exceptionally young squad that will be keen to make their mark in Russia. This includes Arsenal's talented 21-year old forward Alex Iwobi, while Leicester City's fearsome Wilfred Ndidi has emerged as the perfect midfield partner for skipper John Obi Mikel.
WORLD CUP 2018 GROUP D BEST ODDSThe following are the highest odds on the World Cup Group D Winner market. Click on the 'Bet' button to require the highest available odds on your selected team.
WORLD CUP 2018 GROUP D PREDICTIONSUndoubtedly one of the most challenging World Cup groups, we're backing favourites Argentina to claim first place and mount a serious challenge during the knockout stages. The battle for second place should be more fiercely contested with Croatia's outstanding individual quality offering them a slight advantage over Iceland and Nigeria.
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