Football

The Bluffer's Guide To The World Cup: Group D

The Bluffer's Guide To The World Cup: Group D

You may only have a passing interest in football, but with the World Cup upon us now is the time to hone your meagre footballing knowledge, if only for the inevitable water cooler chat the day after a big game.

The Bluffer's Guide To Group D

Argentina

Nickname: La Albiceleste - White and Sky Blues

Manager: Jorge Sampaoli

FIFA Ranking: 5

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Jorge Sampaoli will be putting all his eggs in one basket in Russia, with that basket being the performance of Lionel Messi. The 58-year-old even went so far as to say, “if Leo is OK, the team will be more under his control than mine". That will give you a sense of the burden on the Barcelona man's back.

But La Albiceleste have a habit of falling at the final hurdle, with Messi and co. losing the last World Cup final and subsequent Copa Americas in 2015 and 2016. Argentina are definitely front heavy when it comes to quality with Messi, Di Maria, Aguero and Dybala all great options in attack, but the further back in the team you go the shakier it gets with Nicolas Otamendi and Marcos Rojo their only defenders playing at elite clubs.

Sampaoli has also been rocked by injuries to Manuel Lanzini and Sergio Romero, with Willy Caballero expected to deputise in the absence of the Manchester United keeper.

Argentina should get out of the group stages comfortably, but it remains to be seen how far Messi's brilliance can take them.

Thing to say to make yourself sound clever: Higuain never delivers on the international stage, and meanwhile they've left their best  striker, Mauro Icardi, at home.

Meaningless platitude to spout every now and again: Messi is carrying this Argentina side.

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Useless stat to churn out to give a semblance of expertise: Lionel Messi scored seven goals in the World Cup qualifiers - no other Argentinian player scored more than two.

Iceland

Nickname: Strakamir Okkar - Our Boys

Manager: Heimir Hallgrímsson

FIFA Ranking: 22

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The jewel in this Iceland team's crown is undoubtedly Gylfi Sigurrdsson and the team will rely heavily on the Everton man's crosses and set pieces to nick a goal in this tournament. Counter attacks will also be key for Heimir Hallgrimsson's men, who are expected to line up in a 4-5-1 formation as they look to stifle the other teams in Group D.

Thing to say to make yourself sound clever: Why is Hallgrimsson rejecting the 4-4-2 formation that brought them so much success at the Euros?

Meaningless platitude to spout every now and again:  This team has been through so much together, they know each other inside out.

Useless stat to churn out to give a semblance of expertise: Heimar Hallgrimsson combines managing the national team with running a dental surgery clinic in a small town in Iceland.

Croatia

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Nickname: Vatreni - The Blazers

Manager:  ‎Zlatko Dalić

FIFA Ranking: 20

Croatia have a lot of talent in midfield in Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mateo Kovacic & Marcelo Brozovic, but Dalic has found it hard to accommodate them all in his system, and has recently pushed Modric into a 10 role with Rakitic acting as a deep lying playmaker for the team.

Other notable players at Croatia's disposal include Dejan Lovren, Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Perisic and Andrej Kramaric and although the team is ageing Croatia have a solid first eleven.

Dalic will feel that qualification from the group stages is a must, but in one of the more difficult pools in the tournament, Croatia will have to be on their game if they are to reach the knockout round.

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Thing to say to make yourself sound clever: What's Dalic doing with Modric at 10? He needs to be back in midfield dictating the play.

Meaningless platitude to spout every now and again: Will Croatia's ageing squad work against them in the latter stages of the tournament?

Useless stat to churn out to give a semblance of expertise: No player scored more goals during European World Cup qualifying without providing an assist than Croatia's Mario Mandzukic. FYI, I lifted this stat from Opta. Shameless.

Nigeria

Nickname: The Super Eagles

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Manager: Gernot Rohr

FIFA Ranking: 48

Nigeria will have a few familiar faces to English football fans in the form of Victor Moses Odion Ighalo, Kelechi Iheanacho, Alex Iwobi and Wilfried Indidi. Coach Gernot Rohr will look to utilise the pace at his disposal on the counter, while captain Jon Obi Mikel is very important to the Super Eagles, dictating the play in midfield at ripe old age of 31.

Thing to say to make yourself sound clever: The Super Eagles need to hope Onazi and Ndidi can show some composure and get the ball out to the wings where they can hurt defences.

Meaningless platitude to spout every now and again: This Nigeria team are greater than the sum of their parts.

Useless stat to churn out to give a semblance of expertise: Since their first appearance in 1994, no African team has taken part in as many World Cups as Nigeria (6 - 1994, 1998, 2002, 2010, 2014 and 2018).

 

 

See Also: The Bluffer's Guide To The World Cup: Group A

Eoin Lyons