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World Cup Group of Death 2018: Fixtures and Predictions All Matchups

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistJune 14, 2018

Argentina's forward Lionel Messi attends a training session in Madrid on March 25, 2018 ahead of an international friendly football match between Spain and Argentina. / AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS        (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
GABRIEL BOUYS/Getty Images

It's FIFA World Cup tradition for one group to appear more menacing than others, but the 2018 edition of the tournament has several candidates to take on the title of the Group of Death.

The Group of Death is the closest in terms of competition among its four competitors, and it also offers excitement and uncertainty, with no assurances over who will make it to the knockout stages.

Group D has all of that this year, and although 2014 runners-up Argentina may appear to be the only nation one could consider as prospective group winners, Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria will all fancy their chances of progressing.

Of those four teams, Iceland are the only nation set to debut in the finals.

Read on for a breakdown of the Group of Death fixture schedule, complete with match predictions and who we will see advance to the round of 16 and in what order.

              

Group D Fixtures, Predictions 

Saturday, June 16

Argentina 2-0 Iceland, 2 p.m. BST/9 a.m. ET, ITV (UK)/Fox (U.S.)

Croatia 2-2 Nigeria, 8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET, ITV (UK)/FS1 (U.S.)

             

Thursday, June 21

Argentina 1-1 Croatia, 7 p.m. BST/2 p.m. ET, BBC (UK)/Fox (U.S.)

       

Friday, June 22

Nigeria 1-1 Iceland, 4 p.m. BST/11 a.m. ET, BBC (UK)/Fox (U.S.)

            

Tuesday, June 26

Nigeria 1-2 Argentina, 7 p.m. BST/2 p.m. ETBBC (UK)/FS1 or Fox (U.S.)

Croatia 3-2 Iceland, 7 p.m. BST/2 p.m. ETBBC (UK)/FS1 or Fox (U.S.)

             

Predicted Group D Finish: Argentina (1st), Croatia (2nd), Nigeria (3rd), Iceland (4th)

            

Group Preview

Argentina may be favourites to top Group D after finishing CONMEBOL qualification in third—behind winners Brazil and runners-up Uruguay—but there is no reason manager Jorge Sampaoli should think the group stage will be a cakewalk.

It's easy to forget that, prior to 2014, Argentina had failed to make it past the quarter-finals in their previous five World Cups, and they exited at the group stage in 2002.

Talent is seldom an issue for the South Americans, though, and their attack could be the best on show in Russia:

B/R Football @brfootball

Argentina's final World Cup squad looks 🔥... Even without Mauro Icardi 🇦🇷 https://t.co/dIJRHehpsO

La Albiceleste are ranked fifth in the world but have a mixed squad of veterans and less seasoned misfits, some of whom struggled to feature for their clubs this season.

Experience and the nous gained from playing alongside familiar faces is often an undervalued asset in competitions, and broadcaster Juan Arango highlighted what a new experience this would be for many in the Argentina ranks:

Джон г. Аранго @JuanG_Arango

14 players on this @argentina side will be playing their first World Cup. Armani could become the first GK to make his first official cap with NT in a World Cup since Fillol.

In that sense, Croatia are a more unified party and have an advantage in familiarity considering they have brought 13 players to Russia who were a part of the squad in Brazil four years ago.

Granted, the team's form has slipped in recent times—they have won just six of their past 14 games—and a play-off was needed to qualify, but the talent is evident. As was the case in 2014, a midfield containing Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic commands attention. 

Iceland and Nigeria, meanwhile, were the second-highest seeds in Pots 3 and 4, respectively, before the World Cup draw, suggesting even Group D's minnows are relatively strong in comparison with others.

The Icelandic underdogs have already made history in becoming the smallest nation to qualify for a World Cup, as Tifo Football noted in exploring their journey:

That nothing-to-lose approach is a dangerous weapon and helped them at UEFA Euro 2016, where they made a shock run to the quarter-finals and also went unbeaten in a group that contained champions Portugal.

Nigeria have more reason than any to be saddened by their Group D draw, with broadcaster Deji Faremi outlining their ill-fated history of World Cup matchups with Argentina:

Deji Faremi @deejayfaremi

1994: Nigeria 1-2 Argentina 2002: Nigeria 0-1 Argentina 2010: Nigeria 0-1 Argentina 2014: Nigeria 2-3 Argentina 2018: ???? #ShareACokeWithSuperEagles https://t.co/M2iuedyfw9

The Super Eagles are the lowest-ranked African nation at the World Cup this summer (47th), but form suggests those numbers are off after they became the first team to advance from CAF qualification.

In what could be Lionel Messi's last World Cup—he turns 31 on June 24—and with pressure mounting, it's possible Argentina could crack, making Group D a much closer fight than many are expecting.

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