Group D is one that i’m keen to get involved in. I would likely have looked to oppose Argentina no matter who they drew as they were always going to be artificially short in the betting as one of a handful of the world powerhouses of international football.
They were dragged into the finals by a Lionel Messi hattrick in their playoff with Ecuador, after going two nil down in the first 15 minutes, off the back of a seriously lacklustre qualifying campaign.
Their squad consists of Messi, a host of other world class attackers in Aguero, Di Maria and Higuain and then an unimpressive looking bunch of keepers, defenders and midfielders.
It is unclear who will start in goal with Sergio Romero ruled out with a knee injury, leaving another EPL back-up goalie in Willie Caballero the likely, although not certain, starter.
Nicolas Otamendi is their key central defender and he’s got a clanger in him despite coming off a much improved season for Man City. The Argentina midfield also looks decidedly average.
So who do we oppose them with?
Croatia are the obvious choice and i’ve probably invested (*lost) more money backing them in major tournaments than any other as they always seem to have a wealth of talent – especially in midfield – and this squad is no different with Modric and Rakatic unquestionably two of the best midfielders in the tournament.
However, they look vulnerable at the back, and up front if Mandzukic doesn’t score I’m not sure where the goals are going to come from with Modric unlikely to chip in and Rakatic only netting once in 35 appearances for Barcelona last season. Kalinic and Perisic are the other likely forwards but their scoring records were very average last season with six in 31 games for AC Milan from Kalinic and 11 from 37 from Perisic for Inter.
Another intangible factor which cannot be understated is squad harmony as these players are going to be living in each others pockets for the duration of the tournament…in Russia. The vibes from Croatia suggest that this is not a unified squad at all, with Luka Modric seemingly in the middle of it after being charged with perjury at the trial of a former Dynamo Kiev director.
If Croatia can get out of the group and into the knock out stages they can be a force to be reckoned with but at odds of $3.6 to win the group there could be better value in one of the other two teams in the group.
Nigeria won their qualifying group but do not give the impression of a side capable of going deep into this tournament. They will have plenty of pace in attack with Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho and the somewhat ponderous back fours of the other three teams will have to be at their best not to concede. There are goals in this Nigeria side but it’s also hard to see them not conceding despite a heap of clean sheets in qualifying.
As recently as November 2017 Nigeria beat a Messi-less Argentina 4-2 in a friendly so that can’t hurt their confidence. At $11 to win the group I make Nigeria fair value.
The team that I think can spring a surprise in this group is Iceland. They reached the 1/4 finals of Euro 2016 in their first appearance at a major tournament and that experience should stand this squad in good stead as they achieved what they did there by playing as a unit, something which cannot be relied upon from the other three teams in group D.
They won their qualifying group – which looked one of the toughest – beating Croatia (hello), Ukraine and Turkey amongst others.
They won’t dominate possession and at times the football they play may not be pretty but they will set up in a solid 4-2-3-1 formation and rely heavily on the set ball prowess of Gylfi Sigurdsson and the pace of Johann Berg Gudmundsson, who is coming off a break out season in the Premier League with Burnley. Their key defender will be Ragnar Sigurdsson who plays his club football in Russia, which should be another positive.
Iceland will be one of the biggest (literally) teams in the tournament and this, in combination with Sigurdsson’s free kicks could prove troublesome for all teams in this group, especially the diminutive Croats.
1 unit Iceland to win Group D at $15 with UBET
1 unit Iceland to qualify at $3.75 with Bet365 (this is as big as $5 in the UK so maybe wait/shop around)
0.5 unit Argentina to finish bottom of group D at $26 with Centrebet