Soccer

Previews for all eight World Cup groups – Group D

It's Argentina's group to lose, but who else will advance?

Welcome to the What the Sports’ previews of each World Cup group leading up to the first match on June 14. Today, we preview the ever-fascinating Group D.

The group has three teams everyone will be rooting for, plus Croatia. Fans are rooting for the most-intimidating Cinderella team of all time in Iceland, for Nigeria to show out in their swaggy kits and for Messi to finally get his deserved international glory with Argentina. Not much to root for with Croatia besides that me liking that one investor on Shark Tank.

Iceland

These scary Icelanders are one of the most likeable underdogs in sports. With such a small population size and large lads in defense, Iceland won’t be easy to defeat in Russia. Around the same size as New York state, with 19 million less inhabitants, the intimacy of the Icelandic people showed at their last major tournament.

Basically the whole country traveled to France to support their national team two years ago in the Euros. The connection between the fans and players with the infamous “skol chant,” although made less cool after the Minnesota Vikings copied them, propelled the team to a Round of 16 win over England.

This gives me goosebumps every time. *queues Travis Scott*

The only thing that worries me about this counter-attacking side is the fact that it seems like there’s only about five last names in all of Iceland. Everyone knows there’s a lack of diversity up there, but inbreeding surely doesn’t help their chances in Russia.

Who to watch

Gylfi Sigurdsson

Gylfi is one of my favorite players in the game. While I didn’t care for him too much in a Spurs shirt, seeing him carry Swansea on his back for a few years before moving to Everton was incredible. Always a threat from free kicks, Sigurdsson always has brilliant control and touch on the ball. His vision is so great that when he was a kid, he didn’t even have to eat any carrots.

The gameplan will be for him to lead the charge on starting counter attacks. When he has the ball at his feet, they have a chance.

They can win the group if…

Argentina can’t score, Croatia’s midfield doesn’t show up and Nigeria let in a bunch of goals. Iceland aren’t favorites to advance by any means, but they certainly won’t be easy to beat. Still, they’ll need help in the form of some subpar performances from the other three.

Most likely to get meme-d

Their goal celebrations. If they score, it won’t be too unlikely for them to celebrate with one of their favorite activities.

Nigeria

The Nigerians will be eager to show what they can do at the international stage. Making their World Cup debut in 1994, Nigeria is making its sixth appearance. In their five prior appearances, they made it past the group stage in three of them.

The Super Eagles field a typically African-brand of soccer: attacking with pace, kind of disorganized and scoring bangers from the outside. While it’s certainly a tough group, expect them to take the game to their opponents with a stifling press and energetic midfield.

Who to watch

Alex Iwobi

There’s a few quality players representing the Premier League to choose from here, but Iwobi has the most promise among them. Arsenal bias aside, Iwobi may be the best player in the entire tournament. His close control and overpowering stature makes for a beautiful combination, and he’s quite fashionable as well. It’s clear the Super Eagles will be looking for him for inspiration to take some points as he’s been the cover man for Nigeria’s jerseys, which sold out in 10 minutes after going on sale.

John Obi Mikel returns to the holding midfield role from Who Knows Where He’s Been Maybe China FC. Meanwhile, Kelechi Iheanacho will look to bang some goals in like this one and poach home some scores like he did for Manchester City. Also, Victor Moses and Ahmed Musa will both be marauding down the wings.

They win the group if…

Pretty much the same way as Iceland, they’ll certainly need Croatia and Argentina to underperform while surpassing expectations themselves. A few lucky bounces here and there wouldn’t hurt either.  

Most likely to get meme-d

Scammers. While none of the players need to resort to scamming people for their money, some people might pretend to be them. Nobody is likely to get fooled besides maybe Michael Scott.

Croatia

The Croatians boast one of the top midfield units in the tournament. With Ivan Rakitic of Barcelona, Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic of Real Madrid and Marcelo Brozcovic of Inter Milan, you can expect smooth passing movements and quality on the ball.

Those playmakers will be expected to create goalscoring chances for their two star forwards, the veteran Mario Mandzukic of Juvenus and Ivan Perisic of Inter. The attacking side of things aren’t a concern, but having the mistake-prone Dejan Lovren as your leader of the defense is worrisome.  

Who to watch

Luka Modric

Modric has cemented himself as the world’s best central midfielder for a few years now, and was crucial in Madrid’s third consecutive Champions League title. Ever since Xavi left Barcelona, Modric has been looked at as the best midfield maestro of the world.

They can win the group if…

If Argentina drop points in the other two matches. Croatia are a great side who, by the looks of it, can either coast to winning the group while the other teams beat each other up or could also lose all three games in horrific fashion. It’ll be about capitalizing on quick counters and set pieces for the Croatians to top the group.

Most likely to get meme-d

Dejan Lovren. Lovren is already one of the most memeable defenders in the world, but put him with even more responsibility at an even bigger stage… the outcome is inevitable.

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Argentina

The Argentinians blue-balled everyone hoping for a Messi World Cup triumph four years ago, and could easily do so again in a week. While they certainly have the potential, especially going forward, to make it back to the final, they will have a tough time getting out of the group stage.

Four years ago saw tough matches against the Bosnians and Iranians, but now they have tougher opponents. Still, players like Paulo Dybala and Sergio Agüero should be willing to finally pull their weight to give Messi the title he deserves.  

Who to watch

Javier Mascherano

While it’s impossible to keep your eyes away from Messi’s magic, it’ll be important to watch how Mascherano fares. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s lost a step since his move to China from Barcelona, but he was vital to the team’s success with key possession and defensive position to keep opposing teams at bay.

He’ll be every bit as important this time around to anchor the defensive efforts on a team loaded with offensive talent. The ever-improved Nicolas Otamendi was among the best center backs in the world for City this season, so hopefully the rest of the backline can remain mistake-free.

They can win the group if…

They score the goals they’re supposed to score. Gonzalo Higuaín has garnered a reputation of choking at the biggest stages, but he’ll need to bring his goalscoring record from Serie A to the World Cup if this team were to win it all.

They’ll also need players like Dybala, Agüero and Di Maria to step up into key contributing roles to beat three quality teams in Group D.

Most likely to get meme-d

Probably Sergio Romero. I can see him being the one to make a costly mistake this year, and Twitter won’t be very forgiving.

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