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Russia 2018 : Profiling Nigeria’s World Cup Opponents

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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.

ARGENTINA

Confederation: CONMEBOL
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.

READ ALSO: Russia 2018 World Cup: A Chance To Get Reward For Passion

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.

Matches
>> 16 JUN 2018
Argentina v Iceland

>> 21 JUN 2018
Argentina v Croatia

>> 26 JUN 2018
Nigeria v Argentina

SQUAD

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

CROATIA

Confederation: UEFA
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

Matches

16 JUN 2018
>> Croatia v Nigeria

21 JUN 2018
Argentina v Croatia

26 JUN 2018
>> Iceland v Croatia

SQUAD

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.

ICELAND

Confederation: UEFA
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.

READ ALSO: Touching Story Of A World Cup Winner, Madrid Player Who Ended Up Cleaning Boots

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.

MATCHES
>> 16 JUN 2018
Argentina v Iceland

>> 22 JUN 2018
Nigeria v Iceland

>> 26 JUN 2018
Iceland v Croatia

SQUAD

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.

THE STAT

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

You can Watch Every Of The 2018 FIFA World Cup Games Here

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