Russia 2018: Group D Guide

Teams:

  • Argentina
  • Croatia
  • Iceland
  • Nigeria

Group Favourites: Argentina at 4/6 with 888Sport

Key Fixture: Croatia v Nigeria at Kaliningrad on 16th June

Summary

Argentina arrive in Russia as beaten finalists four years ago and are getting some support in the outright win markets this time around. The 2018 version of this squad only just managed to qualify for this year’s World Cup however, so we’re not backing them ourselves and they may not be the best option to win Group D.

Croatia should be more used to the conditions in Eastern Europe and they have some talented players but they tend to underperform at the major tournaments. Argentina start as favourites for the group win at that 4/6 price with 888Sport while the Croatians can be picked up at a top price of 61/25 with MarathonBet.

Completing this section are Nigeria at best odds of 11/1 with Unibet for the outright win while Iceland complete the quartet at a top price of 18/1 with Black Type. It’s worth noting that the Icelanders are as short as 10/1 in other places and after impressing at Euro 2016, there will certainly be some interest in their To Qualify odds of 3/1 with Coral.

Overall, this seems to be one section where there are no ‘minnows’ and we shouldn’t write any side off.

Crucial Fixtures

With no real weak link in this group, we could have identified any number of games as ‘crucial’ but we’ve gone for Croatia vs Nigeria largely because of the timing. This match is the first of the tournament for both sides so it’s vital to avoid defeat as the second favourites take on the third placed team in the group win betting.

Croatia are the favourites to pick up all three points and can be taken at best odds of 8/11 with Betway and BetBright while the draw comes next at a top price of 139/50 with MarathonBet. A win for Nigeria then completes this market at a fairly distant best of 5/1 with BetFred.

We think that Croatia should come through that but we also feel that Iceland are very underrated in this section and the Scandinavians may well have a say in the destiny of this group.

Iceland v Croatia is also going to be key when the teams meet in the final match in Rostov on June 26. By that stage we will know if there is anything riding on this fixture and while the Croatians are favourites here again at 43/50 with MarathonBet, many punters will be very tempted to get behind Iceland at 21/5 with Unibet.

Key Players

Lionel Messi, Argentina

The main focal point, from an individual point of view, is Argentina’s Lionel Messi. He’s one of the best players ever to have stepped onto a football pitch but while he somehow won the Golden Ball award at Brazil 2014, he has never been a major influence for his team in this tournament.

There are many talented players in this squad including Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria to name just two but Messi’s form is vital. Interestingly, Argentina’s three keepers are inexperienced at international level and have just nine full caps between them so could this be an area for opponents to exploit?

Croatia’s squad for Russia 2018 is led by their captain and most experienced player Luka Modric. The midfielder may be something of a fringe player at Real Madrid these days but in terms of international football, everything flows through Modric as the fulcrum of the team.

The 32 year old is joined by his club teammate Mateo Kovacic along with Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic while Ivan Perisic from Juventus helps form a squad that contains some of the hottest properties in European football.

Nigeria travel with quite a young squad and their most familiar player, certainly to Russian fans, is the striker Ahmed Musa who played last season on loan at CSKA Moscow from Leicester City.

Musa has a modest international record of 13 goals in 72 full internationals but he scored six in ten for CSKA last season and will be an important figure for the Super Eagles at Russia 2018. We should also look out for Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi who has a better scoring ratio than Musa and found the net against England in the World Cup warm up between the two sides.

Iceland are here with much of the squad that famously reached the knockout stages of Euro 2016. Their captain is Aron Gunnarsson but their leading goal scorer and most important player is likely to be Gylfi Sigurdsson. The Everton midfielder found the net when his side beat England at the Euros and after a season which was affected by injury, he is fit and ready to perform an important role for his country at Russia 2018.

Verdict

Luka Modric, Croatia

Group D is very open as far as we are concerned and there is scope for an upset. Argentina are not a one man team but they do need Lionel Messi to have a big tournament and we won’t back them at 8/11 to win the section with any confidence.

Croatia have a better squad than many and as second favourites to win at 61/25, there is some decent value. There is also the temptation to back Iceland to qualify after their exploits at Euro 2016 but they are in a strong group this time with no weak sides to overcome.

It’s tough but we are edging towards Croatia for the group win. Argentina, like many teams, can start tournaments slowly and who can forget their 1-0 defeat to lowly Cameroon at the beginning of Italia 90?

The Croatians need certain players to perform and they have largely been disappointing at major tournaments but, if they start strongly and get three points from that opening match against Nigeria, they should gain confidence to go on and win this section.

Individual matches will be very tough to call and we will preview the key group fixtures in full as the tournament progresses so for now, we’ll just leave it with one suggestion for this tight and intriguing section.

Best Bet

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