Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona now owns a second luxury apartment in Florida. Image via Getty Images

World Cup 2018: Group D teams, fixtures and kick-off times

Group D is perhaps the most interesting of them all as Lionel Messi’s Argentina gun for their third title. The battle for second will be intense as Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria lock horns.

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona now owns a second luxury apartment in Florida. Image via Getty Images

Group D promises to be rather interesting with Argentina, Nigeria, Croatia and Iceland in the mix.

After their defeat in the 2014 final, this is Lionel Messi’s big chance to finally get his hands on the trophy.

However, Messi only rescued a shambolic qualifying campaign by scoring a vital hat-trick in Ecuador in the last game to take the team to Russia. There are huge doubts about the rest of Jorge Sampaoli’s squad, and the coach recently said Messi “can carry the team on his shoulders.”

But Sampaoli must also get the best out of the many undoubted talents at his disposal, including Sergio Aguero and Paulo Dybala, to help his side’s chances of reaching the latter stages.

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MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – JANUARY 20: Sergio Aguero of Manchester City celebrates after scoring a goal to make it 1-0 during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Newcastle United at Etihad Stadium on January 20, 2018 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

Former Argentine coach Carlos Bianchi, now an ESPN analyst, believes Argentina can definitely go all the way at the 2018 Fifa World Cup. 

“Argentina will be World Cup champions, guided by Lionel Messi, the best player in the history of the game.”

The battle for second is an intense one and Croatia will be strong contenders with Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic perfectly positioned to power them into the knockout phase.

The final game against Iceland could prove to be the game which decides who goes through with Iceland expected to once again exceed their underdog status as they did at Euro 2016.

Of the five African teams, Nigeria have been given the least chance of making it through to the last-16. Coach Gernot Rohr is sitting with a bit of a goalkeeping dilemma since the departure of Vincent Enyeama from the international scene as well as Carl Ikeme’s leukemia diagnosis.

Just how have Nigeria fared at the World Cup?

Rohr has since put his faith in the 19-year-old youngster Francis Uzoho who did well to keep Robert Lewandowski at bay as Poland were beaten, but with only 180 minutes of La Liga football under his belt with Deportivo La Coruna, the inexperienced Uzoho is in danger of being exposed in Russia.

There is also a feeling that the Super Eagles rely too heavily on the trio of Leon Balogun, John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses.

Solace Chukwu of Goal Nigeria says there are plenty of gaping holes behind the foundation set by the star trio.

“This team remains inordinately reliant on its spine of Leon Balogun, John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses. That in itself is not a bad thing. Every team has a spine to build upon. However, what is increasingly glaring is that the level of the side without them does not so much depreciate as it does disappear altogether. It is one thing to go from a good side to a not-so-good side, and quite another to go from a good side to a turgid, bereft one.”

Iceland, who took the world by storm at Euro 2016, have problems of their own.

They need everyone fit to have a chance, and there have been a number of worries leading up to the tournament. Gylfi Sigurdsson will only just be back from a knee injury and possibly not match-fit, while their Euro 2016 centre-forward Kolbeinn Sigthorsson will probably miss out having barely kicked a ball since September 2016. Another key forward, Alfred Finnbogason, has also struggled for fitness.

But no one can discount the talented Icelanders, armed with loads of self-belief and currently ranked 22nd in the world. Their staggering upward trajectory in the last few years will have the other teams sitting up and taking notice as the smallest ever nation to qualify for a World Cup, take aim at a spot in the last-16.

Fixtures:

All kick-off times are SAST.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Argentina v Iceland

15:00

Spartak Stadium, Moscow

Croatia v Nigeria

21:00

Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Argentina v Croatia

20:00

Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod

Friday, 22 June 2018

Iceland v Nigeria

17:00

Volograd Arena, Volograd

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Argentina v Nigeria

20:00

Saint Petersburg Stadium, St Petersburg

Iceland v Croatia

20:00

Rostov Arena, Rostov-On-Don

Addtional reporting by AFP