For the true casual fan....Quick-twitch bits and opinions on the 32 teams, if you accidentally stumble upon soccer while watching TV this month! GROUP D edition.
GROUP D: Sneakily one of the toughest groups in the tournament.
ICELAND: This country was such a darling and head-turner at the Euro 2016 Tourney, making it to the semi-final in their first ever appearance! Now they're in their first World Cup. They're so likeable, the Vikings adopted the Skol Chant from them. Gylfi Sigurdsson is a fantastic leader and centerpiece for them, and I expect him to have a few free kick chances in Russia that he can most certainly close on. The captain Aron Gunnarsson is the captain and between him and Gylfi, they drive the entire engine of that attack. To put it bluntly, this squad will be a pain in the ass. Alfred Finnbogason is their striker that always has the fall falling to his feet. I don't believe that Iceland will overly out-classed in any match they play. They'll slow things down when they need to, they counter like a tidal wave, and can DEFINITELY move on to the knockout stage. I picture them losing narrowly to Argentina, then it's game on with Nigeria & Croatia.
NIGERIA: They qualified for their first WC in 1994, here in the US! They've only missed 1 since (2006). I'm a big fan of Chelsea's Victor Moses, and former Chelsea player Jon Obi Mikel who is in his thirties but still vital to the Nigerian squad. 22yr old scorer Alex Iwobi is a budding star that could jump out in this tourney. They might have a massive L in net. Playing goalkeeper in high school, I know about big spots, OK??? Francis Uzoho is 19 years old and it sounds like he might be getting the starting gig in Russia. In a group as tight as this one, it only takes a single bleep-up from Uzoho to knock this team out of the mix. Their first match against Croatia is their most important. Nigeria wants to win that so they're not reliant upon points in their final group match against Messi/Argentina, who may be on the grind themselves.
CROATIA: Here's a hot take at your next happy hour --- Croatia wins Group D? Get some popcorn, sit on the couch Saturday afternoon and watch what Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic will do in the midfield. They ruin wear down, wear out, stretch, frustrate and drive opponents insane. I think Croatia are especially motivated given how putrid they were in World Cup 2014. Ivan Perisic is a playmaker, I'm a big fan of Mateo Kovacic, and 32yr old striker Mario Mandzukic can still break hearts. The reason I prefaced this group with how "sneaky tough" it will be, is because all four of these teams can win every game. There are no wounded animals that are just happy to be in Russia. Each team can compete. But my HOT TAKE is in. Croatia wins Group D.
ARGENTINA: I gotta tell you the Messi is my favorite player in the world today. But I also have to tell you that I don't think Argentina have any shot at winning the World Cup. Quite simply, they're 4 years older now. Feels like they're one of the oldest teams in the tournament. Argentina lost in the WC Final 4 years ago, when they were at their best as a group. Messi is still elite, but what about the rest? Javier Mascherano is 34 and plays in China now because he couldn't keep up at Barcelona. I've always liked Angel Di Maria...he's 30. Defender Nicolas Otamendi is still elite and will be as important at keeping opponents off the board as Messi will be at scoring. Sergio Aguero is 30 and he can feel free to score a World Cup goal anytime now. They have Juventus teammates Gonzalo Higuain & Paulo Dybala, who I assume will be coming off the bench. Both can change games. Maybe I'm being negative, but I look at this team and I just think that not winning World Cup 2014 will potentially be even more painful in 2018, once they experience some issues in Russia.
***I can't help it. Argentina is old. I think Croatia win this group, Messi and company grind their way to finish second. Toughest group to predict, I think***