Argentina 11/1 Unibet
Captain: Lionel Messi
Manager: Jorge Sampaoli
Nickname: La Albiceleste
FIFA rank: 5
Argentina is somewhat of a mystery. They qualified third in their group to reach the finals and some of their European based stars were absent from the qualifying games, including the brilliant Lionel Messi. Jorge Sampaoli has omitted veteran striker Carlos Tevez from his squad. In March La Albiceleste suffered a crushing 6-1 defeat at the hands of Spain in March. Argentina must now put their recent results behind them.
It’s unfair to say that Argentina is a one-man team but everything they do will revolve around Messi. At the age of 31, Messi has shown no signs of letting up on his incredibly high standards. Messi is tormented by the World Cup shadow that continues to cast itself over him.
Manchester City’s Nicolás Otamendi is likely to orchestrate the back four and his City team-mate Sergio Aguero is likely to spearhead Argentina’s attack. Aguero has had another exceptional season in the Premier League. Like Messi, Otamendi and Aguero will head into the World Cup having secured Spanish and English league titles respectively.
Sampaoli’s meddling with tactics has not helped Argentina’s cause. The former Chile coach has got to get the best out of all his squad members, if that happens then Diego Maradona may not be the only little number 10 to hold aloft football’s greatest prize. Discipline and consistency will be the key for Argentina. At 11/1, they are well worth a bet.
Croatia 33/1 – Various bookies
Captain: Luka Modric
Manager: Zlatko Dalic
Since joining FIFA in 1992, Croatia has won over many admirers amongst the football fraternity but they’ve struggled to make an impact of late. Qualification for the finals looked doubtful, defeats to Turkey and Iceland raised a few eyebrows. Head Coach Zlatko Dalic was literally thrown into the job at the deep-end. He was appointed a few days before the playoffs with Ukraine. Dalic does not come with a good managerial pedigree.
Croatia has two exceptional midfielders in Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. The problem for Dalic will be adopting a formation that accommodates his La Liga midfielders. The situation is very similar to the situation England had with Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. The Croatian squad has a number of household names, including Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Perisic, Dejan Lovren and Nikola Kalinic.
If Croatia takes their chances against Nigeria to pick up three points there is no reason why they shouldn’t qualify. A tough game Against Argentina is followed by a potential banana skin against Iceland.
Iceland 250/1 Various bookies
Captain: Aron Gunnarsson
Manager: Heimir Hallgrimsson
Nickname: Strakarnir Okkar
FIFA rank: 22
After embarrassing England 2-1 at Euro 2016 the spirited side are relishing the task of upsetting the big-names once more. Iceland qualified for their first ever World Cup finals ahead of Croatia, Turkey and Ukraine which is an achievement in itself.
Everton’s Gylfi Sigurdsson is generally the heartbeat of a side but he is currently carrying a knee injury. Skipper Aron Gunnarsson is also a doubt (knee). Jóhann Gudmundsson had a great impact on Burnley’s successful Premier League campaign. Iceland does not have the quality in depth as their group D opponents. Iceland will keep playing right until the end, as demonstrated during their 1-0 win over Croatia in the qualifiers.
Can Iceland make it to the knockout stages? The draw has not been favourable for the heroes of Euro 2016, however, they’ve already beaten Croatia but touch challenges lie ahead in Argentina and Nigeria. Just imagine if they cause an upset against Messi and company.
Nigeria 250/1 Various bookies
Captain: John Obi Mikel
Manager: Gernot Rohr
Nickname: The Super Eagles
FIFA Rank (as of April 12, 2018): 47
The Super Eagles have qualified for their third successive World Cup. They exceeded expectations in 2014 by reaching the quarterfinals. 2018 World Cup qualification was achieved without too much fuss. Gernot Rohr’s team suffered recent defeats to Serbia and Morocco.
Skipper Jon Obi Mikel isn’t playing at the same standard of football as in previous years. The ex-Chelsea midfielder now plays in the Chinese Super League. Expect to see Chelsea’s Victor Moses tearing down the right wing. Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho is expected to make the final 23-man squad.
The Nigerian side is built on speed and aggression. Their first choice keeper is going to be tested against some pretty outstanding forwards in Aguero, Messi, Mandzukic and Andrej Kramaric. Nigeria is going to be up against it this Summer and it all starts with a fixture against Croatia on June 16.