Teams

Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria

Qualification

Despite being among the 2018 World Cup favourites with Tipbet, Argentina looked for large periods of qualification as if they would not reach the finals in Russia, with Lionel Messi in danger of missing out on potentially his last chance to lift the trophy. However, a late improvement in form meant that they finished third in CONMEBOL and did not even have to take part in a play-off. They were just two points ahead of Chile, who did not qualify.

Iceland won their group in UEFA qualifying and will play in their first ever World Cup and second major tournament. Having lost just two of their 10 matches, they impressed and finished ahead of Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey.

Croatia were the favourites in their qualification group, but Iceland claimed top spot by two points. In the play-offs, Greece were no match and Vatreni advanced 4-1 over two matches.

Nigeria finished top of their group in the final African stage, winning six of their matches to ensure first place ahead of Zambia, Cameroon and Algeria.



Previous World Cups

Most recently Argentina were beaten World Cup finalists in 2014, with Germany winning the game in extra-time. Prior to that the South Americans reached the quarter-finals in three of the last four tournaments, while they are two-time champions (1978 and 1986).

Iceland are at their first World Cup and bring with them an element of the unknown. As they showed at Euro 2016 by getting out of their group and then beating England to reach the quarter-finals, they should not be underestimated.

Croatia are one of the most technically impressive sides in Europe and have been for a number of years now. Since finishing third in 1998, though, their performances at the World Cup have generally disappointed and they have not got out of the group stage in two attempts.

Managers

Gernot Rohr is in charge of the Nigerian team and the German is the only foreign coach in Group D. Rohr has previous international experience – including managing Gabon and Niger – but getting the Super Eagles into the last-16 is his biggest challenge yet.

Jorge Sampaoli is tasked with getting the best out of a multi-talented squad that has some of he best attacking talents in football. The Argentine is well regarded for his work with Chile and he was in charge as they won the 2015 Copa America.

Heimir Hallgrímsson has a tough act to follow after replacing Lars Lagerbäck following the success of Euro 2016, but the 50-year-old continued the upwards trajectory of Icelandic football during qualification and he will set up his side to be dangerous on the counter-attack.

Zlatko Dalić has only been in charge of Croatia since October but he guided them through the play-offs. Pre-World Cup results have been mixed so his long-term future is likely to be dictated by results in Russia.



Squads

Croatia have a squad built around the talents of captain Luka Modric, though Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic are equally important, and the Europeans have their star men fit. Ivan Perisic could be key as the Inter player adds goals from the wing.

Argentina’s depth was displayed in Mauro Icardi being left out of the final 23 despite scoring 29 goals in Serie A last season. Goalkeeper Sergio Romero’s injury means that he has been withdrawn and this could be a major worry with defence long the country’s Achilles heel.

The most notable name for Iceland is attacking midfielder Gylfi Sigurðsson – the Everton player has 19 international goals in 56 appearances. However, he is surrounded by hardworking and physical teammates with just one (Birkir Már Sævarsson) playing his club football in his home country.

Nigeria are captained by former Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel and the Super Eagles boast a good blend of youth and experience. There is a distinct lack of goals, however, with Ahmed Musa, who has 13, having the best record of the group that is heading to Russia.



Prediction

Anything less than top spot for Argentina would be classed as a disappointment, particularly as they have the quality to go deep into Russia 2018. Their attack will need to be in-form with their opponents all having the ability to frustrate them.

Croatia should have the ability to finish as runners-up but their match against Iceland is likely to be crucial to determining this. Nigeria, meanwhile, are very much the underdogs and will have to improve significantly on their pre-tournament showings if they are to make an impact.