After 4 years of wait, the world’s biggest football competition the FIFA World Cup, kicks-off in Russia for another 1 month of football festival which promises to be interesting and action-packed.
32 teams across the 7 continents will be competing for the ultimate prize from June 14 till July 15 where there can only be one winner.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria against all odds became the first African to qualify for the World Cup from a group that had African champions Cameroon, Algeria, and Zambia with a game to spare.
The reward for an impressive qualifying series for the 2013 AFCON winners was a grouping with familiar foes Argentina (this will be the 4th meeting between the two at the World Cup), a star-studded Croatia and a resilient debutant in Iceland.
And as the team prepares for the first match which comes up in less than two weeks, Cheapgoals.com profiles Nigeria’s Group D opponents.
FIFA Ranking: 5th
Captain: Lionel Messi
Best World Cup Finish: Winners (2) 1978 & 1986
Manager: Jorge Sampaoli
MIA: Sergio Romero, Mauro Icardi
ROAD TO RUSSIA
La Albiceleste were looking likely to miss out on the World Cup after an underwhelming qualifying campaign until the final matchday when they defeated Ecuador 3-1 courtesy of a Lionel Messi’s superb hat-trick which secured their 17th appearance at the competition.
They scored 19 times throughout the qualification campaign that spanned 3 years (2015-2017) compared to Brazil’s 41 during the same period, while conceding a whopping 16 goals, failing to beat Bolivia in 2 attempts (1 draw, 1 loss) losing also to Ecuador, Brazil and Paraguay while also picking up draws against Venezuela, Peru and Uruguay.
World Cup Chance
If their qualification campaign is anything to go by then many would expect Argentina for a group stage exit however they are heavy favorites to qualify from the group as group leaders and in fact one of the teams capable of lifting the trophy.
With Lionel Messi in the team, the 2014 World Cup losing finalist cannot be underestimated. Boasting of various superstars in their rank (to the extent of dropping inform Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi), the South Americans will hope to go all the way to lift the trophy, one which will be the first for Lionel Messi on the international football scene if they turn out the champions.
Despite dropping Icardi and losing first-choice goalkeeper Sergio Romero to injury, Argentina wouldn’t be lacking firepower in Russia with Paolo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria all available alongside Javier Mascherano who holds the joint record appearance holder alongside Javier Zanetti with 143 appearances.
>> 16 JUN 2018
Argentina v Iceland
>> 21 JUN 2018
Argentina v Croatia
>> 26 JUN 2018
Nigeria v Argentina
Argentina’s 23-man final squad : Nahuel Guzmán, Willy Caballero, Franco Armani; Gabriel Mercado, Nicolas Otamendi, Federico Fazio, Nicolas Tagliafico, Marcos Rojo, Marcos Acuna, Cristian Ansaldi, Eduardo Salvio; Javier Mascherano, Angel Di Maria, Ever Banega, Lucas Biglia, Manuel Lanzini, Gio Lo Celso, Maximiliano Meza; Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala, Cristian Pavon
FIFA Ranking: 18th
Captain: Luka Modric
Best World Cup Finish: 3rd place (1998)
Manager: Zlatko Dalic
MIA: No notable absentee
ROAD TO RUSSIA
The Croats were grouped alongside Iceland, Ukraine, Turkey, Finland and Kosovo in the Group I of the UEFA qualifying zone for the world cup.
They finished 2nd behind Iceland (who they will face once again at the World Cup) in the Group missing out on automatic qualification but securing a European World Cup play-off spot against Greece who finished 2nd behind Belgium in Group H which had Bosnia & Herzegovina, Estonia, Cyprus, and Gibraltar.
With 20 points, 15 goals scored and a positive goal difference of +11 from 10 games, Croatia were favorites going into the playoff with Greece defeating them 4-1 in Zagreb before securing a 0-0 draw in Piraeus to book a place in Russia.
World Cup Chances
In such a group regarded as the “Group of Death” of the tournament and considering the array of big names in their squad, bookmakers favor them to qualify for the knockout stage alongside Argentina.
Luka Modric & Mateo Kovacic (Real Madrid), Mario Mandzukic (Juventus), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Dejan Lovren (Liverpool) are few of the experienced stars they possess in their rank and with such quality players available for selection, a semifinal finish is not too much an achievement for the Vatreni.
They are expected to fight for the 2nd qualifying spot in the group alongside Nigeria and Iceland
16 JUN 2018
>> Croatia v Nigeria
21 JUN 2018
Argentina v Croatia
26 JUN 2018
>> Iceland v Croatia
Croatia’s 24-man preliminary squad: Danijel Subasic, Lovre Kalinic, Dominik Livakovic; Vedran Corluka, Domagoj Vida, Ivan Strinic, Dejan Lovren, Sime Vrsaljko, Josip Pivaric, Tin Jedvaj, Matej Mitrovic, Duje Caleta-Car, Borna Sosa; Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mateo Kovacic, Milan Badelj, Marcelo Brozovic, Filip Bradaric; Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Perisic, Nikola Kalinic, Andrej Kramaric, Marko Pjaca, Ante Rebic.
FIFA Ranking: 22nd
Captain: Aron Gunnarson
Best World Cup Finish: Nil
Manager: Heimir Hallgrímsson
MIA: Gylfi Sigurdsson (But in the 23-man final list)
ROAD TO RUSSIA
After a historic run to the Euro 2016 quarterfinals in France where they beat England on the way, the Icelanders followed up with an impressive qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup topping a group that had Croatia, Ukraine, Turkey, Finland, and Kosovo.
They lost just twice while they drew once on their route to their first ever World Cup appearance, becoming the smallest nation with a population of around 330, 000, to qualify for the World Cup.
World Cup Chances
Despite losing star man and Everton’s midfielder Gyli Sigurdsson to an ankle injury in March, the debutants are one which shouldn’t be taking lightly.
Even though they parade less popular players (with “son-ny” suffixed names) unlike their other group opponents, their teamwork and determination is a strong reason to their success in recent years.
Their Euro 2016 performance coupled with the world cup qualification have made the opponents to take notice as a side that cannot be joked with.
They are ranked outsiders to cause an upset both in the group by picking a knockout spot and in the tournament proper by finishing in the last 8 although a round of 16 finish would still be considered as a good outing.
>> 16 JUN 2018
Argentina v Iceland
>> 22 JUN 2018
Nigeria v Iceland
>> 26 JUN 2018
Iceland v Croatia
Iceland’s 23-man preliminary squad: Hannes Thor Halldorsson, Runar Alex Runarsson, Frederik Schram; Kari Arnason, Ari Freyr Skulason, Birkir Mar Saevarsson, Sverrir Ingi Ingason, Hordur Magnusson, Holmar Orn Eyjolfsson, Ragnar Sigurdsson; Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Birkir Bjarnason, Arnor Ingvi Traustason, Emil Hallfredsson, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Olafur Ingi Skulason, Rurik Gislason, Samuel Fridjonsson, Aron Gunnarsson; Alfred Finnbogason, Bjorn Bergmann Sigurdarson, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, Albert Gudmundsson
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Iceland and Croatia have met on six occasions in World Cup qualifying in the last eight years. The Croatians have the better of the head-to-head, with four wins from those games, but the Icelanders have the fonder memories of the most recent encounter, which they won 1-0 in June 2017.
Nigeria and Iceland have only faced once before, with the Europeans easing to a 3-0 victory in a friendly in 1981.
History will be made in two Group D fixtures: Argentina has never taken on Iceland before, while Croatia and Nigeria will also do battle for the first time.
4 – The number of times that Argentina and Nigeria have met in World Cup group action. La Albiceleste has triumphed in all four matches: 2-1 in 1994, 1-0 in 2002, 1-0 in 2010 and 3-2 in 2014.
FIFA World Cup
3 – Croatia has lost all their opening matches at the last 3 world cups. 3-1 and 1-0 to Brazil in 2014 and 2006 respectively, 1-0 to Mexico in 2002 (Advantage Nigeria???).
So with 10 days to that opening and crucial clash against Croatia at the Kaliningrad Stadium. Gernot Rohr needs to finetune his strategies around Nigeria’s best players; yet more significantly, he should make sure the players blend in properly in light of the fact that this factors – teamwork, confidence, and undivided solidarity – could be what helps the Eagles Soar high
3 Premier League Flops Who Made It Big Elsewhere
The English Premier League has welcomed some of the best players in the history of football. Players from different continents have made a huge impact on the league with impressive performances. There are others who failed to impress and can be termed as flops.
The League is quite unique from other European leagues. It is more competitive, fierce, physically challenging in nature. Needless to say, a player who isn’t mentally and physically geared up for this will stumble under the pressure.
Established stars can fall by the wayside with their former successes and triumphs becoming nothing more than a footnote in the EPL. Impressively, some of these players put in impressive performances when they moved to other leagues.
3 Premier League Flops Who Made It Big In Other Leagues
Following the impending sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid, Tottenham bought several players, one of the players they bought was Paulinho.
Paulinho was signed from Corinthians in Brazil where he helped them win the Copa Libertadores, Brasileirao, and the FIFA Club World Cup.
They defeated Chelsea in the latter to lift the trophy. Importantly, he had just won the FIFA Confederations Cup with Brazil and was voted as the third-best player at the tournament.
He joined Tottenham as the club’s record signing in 2013, so a lot was expected of him. However, his performance was not as impressive as the club had envisaged. He was later sold to Guangzhou Evergrande in China at a loss.
The Brazilian’s transfer to the Chinese league resulted in a change of fortunes, as helped the club claim the Chinese league and the AFC Champions League title in his first season.
In the second, he was voted into the Chinese League team of the year in recognition of his performance. Also, he won the league, FA Cup, and Super Cup.
Although critics downplayed his performance, citing the standard of the Chinese league compared to the English league, Paulinho impressed in Spain too following a €40 million move to Barcelona.
Paulinho helped the club claim the league and the Copa del Rey trophy. His performance in his only season with Barcelona impressed Ronaldinho who said: “He really stood out.”
- Iago Aspas
Most Premier League fan remembers Aspas only as a Liverpool flop with the number 9 jersey. Aspas moved from boyhood club Celta Vigo to Liverpool for a deal estimated to be around £7.7 m, with Liverpool hoping to have unearthed a gem. However, that gem turns dregs, failing to score in any of his 14 league appearances.
After just one season, Liverpool decided that they have seen enough so they sent him on a season-long loan to Sevilla with an obligation to buy. In his season-long loan at the club, he was the joint top scorer in the Copa del Rey alongside Neymar with 7 goals and won the UEFA Europa League.
At the end of his season-long loan at Sevilla, the club signed him from Liverpool but sold him to Celta Vigo in the same transfer window. In every of his first 5 seasons at Celta Vigo, he scored in double digits.
In fact, in three of the 5 seasons, he won the Zarra Trophy awarded to the Spanish player with the most league goals in a season. As of December 2020, Aspas had won La Liga player of the month four times.
- Diego Forlan
Perhaps, the most notable and interesting English Premier League flop who became a star in another League. He was not just impressive in another league; he was extraordinary with his National team Uruguay.
Sir Alex Ferguson signed Forlan in 2001 following the attacker’s impressive form at Independiente in Argentina. In his first season in England, Forlan made 18 appearances but failed to score a single goal. The two seasons after were not impressive either, hence his transfer to Villarreal.
Impressively, Forlan scored 25 league goals in his first season with Villarreal and won the league’s top scorers award (2004/05). Also, he was awarded the European Golden Shoe award alongside Thierry Henry the same year. He left the club two seasons later for Atletico with 59 goals scored in 128 matches.
In his second season with Atletico Madrid (2008/09), Forlan beat Samuel Eto’o to the Spanish league’s top scorer’s award. He scored 32 league goals in 33 league appearances that season which earned him the Pichichi trophy. Again, he won the European Golden Shoe but this time it was not shared with anyone.
The next season (2009/10), Forlan played a key role as Atletico won the Europa League. He scored six times in the tournament, including two in the 2-1 win over Fulham in the final. He was voted as the man of the match in the final.
With his national team, he was just as impressive; he scored the most goals at the 2010 FIFA World Cup alongside Thomas Muller, Wesley Sneijder, and David Villa.
Furthermore, he was voted into the FIFA World Cup dream team and won the Golden Ball and goal of the tournament title. By the time he retired, he was Uruguay’s highest goal scorer in history, a record which has since been broken by Luis Suarez.
Forlan eventually became so good that some Football fans think he is the caliber of player that could have won the Ballon d’Or.
There are several reasons why players struggle when they change clubs, especially to other countries. Culture, language, teammates, family are some factors that can affect their performances.
These 3 cases show that a player may fail to perform in one league but go on to become a star in another league.
Top 15 Highest Paid Players In Ligue 1
Ligue 1 no doubt harbors quite a number of talented players, as such it’s quite understandable for those considered to be world-class players among them to cash out hugely on what they earn at the end of the month.
As of late, the players’ salaries have given indications of solid development, on account of the tremendous income pouring into the game. The fierce rivalry between the country’s top football clubs has brought the nature of the competition higher than ever. The league has more than its own fair share of highly paid players.
Here is a rundown of the top 15 highest-paid players in the Ligue 1
- Neymar Jr – (Paris Saint Germain, – €3.06 Per Month )
Behind Ronaldo and Messi, the Brazilian forward is regarded as the third-best player in world football since moving from Santos to Barcelona in 2013 for a deal reported worth €86.2million.
After apparently growing and widening his status as a footballer with his achievement on and off the pitch, it was evident that the former Puskas Award winner would go on to attract top elite clubs.
With the Parisian club brimming with a lot of cash to flex muscles with high spending clubs, it was just a matter of time before Neymar would join them. Fast forward to 2017, the Selecao captain signed for PSG for a world record transfer fee worth €222million, and since then he’s been an important figure of both the club and their project.
Amidst transfer rumors of him returning to his old home Barcelona, plus the fact that the Parisian are also ready to offer him a new deal that would tie him down with the French side for at least another three seasons.
- Kylian Mbappe – (Paris Saint Germain, € 1.91m Per Month)
As a World Cup winner and one of the best prospects in world football, it’s quite understandable for Mbappe to be among the highest-paid players in Ligue 1 and Paris Saint Germain. The 2018 World Cup winner burst into the scene as a young player for Monaco, making his professional debut in 2015 at the age of 15.
The Frenchman signed for the Parisian club in 2017 on loan, which was later made permanent in 2018. He has shown to be a great prospect for both the club and their project in dominating the Ligue 1 and also flex muscles with the top clubs in Europe.
His permanent transfer to Paris Saint Germain is reported to be worth €180million, making him both the second most expensive player and most expensive teenager. Since joining the Ligue 1 Champions permanently, the 22-year-old has scored over 120 goals for the Parisian club.
However, amidst the rumor of Real Madrid prepping up to break the bank in their quest to bring him down to the Bernabeu, the World Cup winner is still actively the second biggest earner in the league and of course Paris Saint Germain.
- Correa Marquinhos & Marco Verratti – (Paris Saint Germain, €1.2m Per Month)
Since the departure of top players such as Edinson Cavani, Zlatan, and recently Thiago Silva, Marquinhos’s status has risen from being a mere squad player in the dressing room into a leader, captain, and one of the best gladiator of the club.
As a 19-year-old teenager, the Brazilian was signed in 2013 on a five-year deal by Paris Saint Germain from AS Roma for a fee of around €31.4million. And as reported by BBC Sport, the deal was said to be the highest transfer fee for a teenager then, while Sky also reports it to be the then fifth highest transfer.
The current form of the Brazilian makes him rank as one of Europe’s most valuable players, most especially as a player who is currently plying his trade with the best team in France.
According to the transfer market rating, Marquinhos market value currently stands at €70million, as such with his years of experience and playing over 313 matches for the Parisian, it’s no surprise that the club captain takes home €1.2m per month tied with the Italian on the same amount.
As for the Italian, he’s also been a very instrumental player for the team since joining the club nine years ago. There have always been rumors concerning his future, either joining Barcelona or go back to Italy, but as it stands his current contract with Paris Saint Germain would expire in 2024.
- Angel Di Maria – (Paris Saint Germain, €1.1m Per Month)
Since joining the Parisian for €63million after a disappointing stint with Manchester United in 2015, the Argentine winger has continued to prove to the world that he’s still one of the best players in football since leaving Real Madrid.
Di Maria isn’t just rank among the highest earner for doing nothing, he earns his pay through his brilliant performances over the years since joining them, accumulating a total of 251 appearances scoring over 88 goals and 104 assists.
The former Real Madrid winger may not stay in the Ligue 1 with Paris Saint Germain for three years or more, as he’s already moving close to the end of his career. However, with his deal still running that makes him the fourth-highest earner in the league.
- Keylor Navas – (Paris Saint Germain, €1m Per Month)
When Navas joined Madrid from Levante in the summer of 2014, no one ever thought he’s going to achieve quite a number of success with Los Blancos based on where he was coming from and his antecedent as a goalkeeper.
After a successful stint with Los Merengues, the imminent arrival of Thibaut Courtois means the Costa Rican goalkeeper days at Real Madrid are numbered.
With his achievement at Real Madrid, it was evident that the Costa Rican won’t find it hard to get good European suitor to come by, as such Paris Saint Germain came calling for his services in 2019 having been told he won’t be Real Madrid number one going forward into the new season.
Following Navas’s move to the French capital, it means his salary would be on the high side based on his achievement and reputation as a Champions League winner with arguably the biggest club in Europe.
As a Paris Saint Germain player, he earns €1m per month, making the Costa Rican one of the highest-paid players in Ligue 1
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- Mauro Icardi – (Paris Saint Germain, €800,000 Per Month)
The imminent departure of El Matador when Icardi joined Paris Saint Germain on loan means the responsibility of goalscoring would be on the shoulder of the Argentine. The former Inter Milan forward made his loan permanent with the PSG following a strong start in Paris.
The Argentine and controversy certainly go hand in hand based on his antecedent with his previous clubs. Everywhere he goes he has always shown he could lead the line perfectly, and since he joined the Parisian permanently no report of controversy has been recorded concerning the former Nerazzurri captain.
Icardi may not be the poster boy of PSG just like his days at Inter, that doesn’t make him less of a player in the dressing room among other star players like Neymar and Mbappe who are no doubt the face of the club.
- Leandro Paredes – (Paris Saint Germain, €750,000 Per Month)
Juan Bernat – (Paris Saint Germain, €700,000 Per Month)
Presnel Kimpembe – (Paris Saint Germain, €670,000 Per Month)
Ander Herrera – (Paris Saint Germain, €650,000 Per Month)
Wissam Ben Yedder – (Monaco, €650,000 Per Month)
Cesc Fabregas – (Monaco, €600,000 Per Month)
Julian Draxler – (Paris Saint Germain, €600,000 Per Month)
Idrissa Guaye – (Paris Saint Germain, €500,000 Per Month)