This could be one of the more dynamic and entertaining groups of the World Cup.
Group D might also be one of the hardest groups for a favorite like Argentina to navigate. Croatia and their Real Madrid stars are familiar with Messi and solid defensively, Iceland are the people’s champions making their debuts, and then Nigeria might just counter attack their way into the knockouts with the young strikers they have up front.
Why do we call this a “primer” and not a preview? Because this is more a lot of key information in one place that I think is a handy reference for viewers rather than a ton of specific analysis on what each team can or could do at the World Cup.
Saturday, June 16
9 AM – Argentina vs Iceland, Spartak Stadium, Moscow, FOX/Telemundo
3 PM – Croatia vs Nigeria, Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad, FS1/Telemundo
Thursday, June 21
2 PM – Argentina vs Croatia, Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod, FOX/Telemundo
Friday, June 22
11 AM – Nigeria vs Iceland, Volgograd Arena, Volgograd, FOX/Telemundo
Tuesday, June 26
2 PM – Nigeria vs Argentina, St. Petersburg Stadium, St. Petersburg, FOX/Telemundo or Universo
2 PM – Iceland vs Croatia, Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don, FS1/Telemundo or Universo
Head Coach: Jorge Sampaoli (ARG)
Rankings: FIFA 5 / ELO 5
Nickname: La Albiceleste
Qualification: CONEMBOL (S America) 3rd Place
Appearance: 17th / Best Finish: Champions (1978, 1986)
Recent Results: March 29, at Italy (in England, W 2-0; March 27, at Spain, L 1-6; May 29, vs Haiti, W 4-0
Player You Should Know: FW Lionel Messi, FC Barcelona (ESP), 124 caps / 64 goals - He’s good at soccer.
Player You Should Watch: MF/DF Javier Mascherano, Hebei China Fortune FC (CHN), 143 caps / 3 goals - Another of the fantastic worldwide generation of holding midfield players, Mascherano moved on from a long career with Barcelona recently but at 34 can still have an impact on this stage even in what might be the twilight of his international career.
Argentina is not just the Messi show, it just feels like it at times. They’ve been snakebit too many times to count in the Copa America finals in the past decade but are regulars in the World Cup quarters and are the defending runner-ups, losing to Germany in extra time in 2014. They’re the class of a tricky group much like France in Group C who they want to avoid in the knockout stage by winning this group going away. Setting the tone with a good performance over darlings Iceland will help a lot.
Head Coach: Zlatko Dalic (CRO/BIH)
Rankings: FIFA 20 / ELO 17
Nickname: Vatreni (The Blazers)
Qualification: Won UEFA Aggregate Playoff vs Greece 4-1
Appearance: 5th / Best Finish: Third Place (1998)
Recent Results: June 3, vs Brazil (in England), L 0-2; June 8, vs Senegal, W 2-1
Player You Should Know: MF Luka Modric, Real Madrid (ESP), 106 caps / 12 goals - The captain and Madrid/Tottenham great does everything in the middle of the field and is a tremendous passer. The heart and engine of the Croatian team and another of this generation of midfield maestros I am going to miss.
Player You Should Watch: FW Mario Mandzukic, Juventus (ITA), 83 caps / 30 goals - A 6’3’’ monster of a target forward, Mandzukic also likes to get involved on defense as well and can run for days.
Croatia have a terrific blend of experience and youth on this roster and while some of their legends might be making their last World Cup as starters, I think their overall depth could make them a bit of a sleeper in the knockout rounds. I think this squad can test Argentina, perhaps better than the other two teams in the group, but that doesn’t mean they’re a lock to finish in the top two.
Head Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson (ISL)
Rankings: FIFA 24 / ELO 22
Nickname: Strákarnir okkar (Our Boys), The Vikings
Qualification: UEFA (Europe) Group I Winners
Appearance: 1st / Best Finish: N/A
Recent Results: June 2, vs Norway, L 2-3; June 7 vs Ghana, D 2-2
Player You Should Know: MF Aron Gunnarsson, Cardiff City (Wales/EPL), 77 caps / 2 goals - The Viking captain and holding/central midfielder has been a mainstay with Cardiff for the last several years and a big part of Iceland’s breakthrough in recent major tournaments.
Player You Should Watch: MF Gylfi Sigurdsson, Everton (ENG), 57 caps / 19 goals - The former Swansea player made the move to Everton and played 27 games for the club last season. The current scoring leader on the roster, Sigurdsson is going to have to have a big tournament if Iceland wants to pull off another shock knockout round upset.
The darlings of Euro 2016 took down England in the Round of 16 in their first ever major tournament that included a group stage 1-1 draw against Portugal. If you’re not rooting for Iceland, you shouldn’t be rooting against them. It’s their first World Cup, their head coach is a practicing dentist, there is nothing to hate about this team and I am happy to enjoy the ride for as long as they can drive the bandwagon.
Head Coach: Gernot Rohr (GER)
Rankings: FIFA 48 / ELO 45
Nickname: Super Eagles
Qualification: CAF (Africa) Third Round Group B Winners
Appearance: 6th / Best Finish: Round of 16 (1994, 1998, 2014
Roster Breakdown: 1 Domestic, 7 England, 3 Turkey, 2 China, 2 Italy, 2 Russia, 1 South Africa, 1 Spain, 1 Belgium, 1 France, 1 Israel, 1 Portugal
Recent Results: May 28, vs DR Congo, D 1-1, June 2, at England, L 1-2; June 6, vs Czech Rep (in Austria), L 0-1
Player You Should Know: MF John Obi Mikel, Tianjin TEDA (CHN), 85 caps / 6 goals - The former Chelsea great and another of my workhorse/maestro central midfielders.
Players You Should Watch: FWs Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho, combined 37 caps / 13 goals - Both players hail from the English Premier League with Arsenal and Leicester City respectively, they’re both under 23 years olds, and they’re both going to cause a lot of headaches in this group.
The new seeding makes it far harder to have an old school “Group of Death” but I think this might be the hardest or most difficult group in the World Cup. Nigeria is largely why, because if you think this team is a walk over you’re solely mistaken. Very solid team in the midfield and a couple of young starlets up top, the Super Eagles are going to cause headaches in this group because if they don’t make it to the next round, they will surely take someone home with them.
Argentina is good and I expect them to be in the next round under pretty much all situations. However, behind them could be pure and total chaos and I will love every second of it. If one of the favorites is going down, this is kind of diverse group that can take down an Argentina - two solid Euro teams and an upstart African side. I could absolutely see a second place team here advancing with two or three points from all draws or goal difference coming into play for a couple of teams on four points with a 1-1-1 record. In the end, I have to go with my heart which I have pledged to Iceland for the next few weeks.
1 - Argentina (5 pts); 2 - Iceland (4 pts); 3 - Nigeria (3 pts); 4 - Croatia (2 pts)