Runners-up in Brazil four years ago, two-time World Cup champion Argentina are the star attraction in Group D of the 2018 tournament.
They will face World Cup debutants Iceland, into their second consecutive major tournament after impressing at Euro 2016, Croatia and Nigeria.
Read on for the fixtures, group odds and forecasts in Group D….
Otkritie Arena, Moscow
Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad
Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Nivgorod
Volgograd Arena, Volgograd
Krestovsky Stadium, St Petersburg
Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don
Argentina are comfortable odds-on favourites to win Group D, despite their poor form, with their big-tournament experience and star players enough to convince Bet365 to set them at 8/13 to win the group.
Croatia are the team expected to push them closest at 9/4 to top Group D with Bet365, while Nigeria are 10/1 and Iceland can be backed at 12/1.
Whether or not they do it in first place, Argentina are still expected to go through to the second round – at the end of the day, despite their below-par qualification campaign, they still reached the World Cup finals.
Sometimes peaking as the tournament goes on serves teams better – Portugal at Euro 2016, for example – and it is little surprise to see Argentina as low as 1/7 to qualify from Group C.
Croatia are also odds-on favourites to get through at 1/2 with Bet365. Iceland are 11/4 and Nigeria are 9/4 – though one cautionary note is that, as well as needing the play-offs to reach the World Cup finals, Croatia have not made it out of the group stages since finishing third at France ’98.
They will still expect to go through, but Iceland have already caused an upset at Euro 2016 and after taking their form into World Cup qualifying will be keen to do so again in Russia. Iceland also finished ahead of Croatia in qualifying, but in head-to-head matches they both won one game apiece.
Group D could be one of the groups that produces a shock result, given Argentina’s poor form, Croatia’s recent World Cup record and Iceland’s recent giant killing.
However, ultimately Argentina will expect to top the group and Croatia will expect to join them in the second round. The 1st – Argentina, 2nd – Croatia forecast is 7/4 with Bet365. If you do fancy Iceland to cause another upset, 1st – Argentina, 2nd – Iceland is 6/1..
Even if they do not qualify, Iceland will hope to beat Nigeria and avoid finishing bottom in Group D so it is a surprise given their Euro 2016 heroics to find them favourites to finish fourth.
Bet365 are offering 6/5 on Iceland finishing bottom of the pile, compared to 7/5 for Nigeria. Iceland showed they can out-perform expectations at a major tournament with their Euro 2016 performances, and the fact they have carried that form all the way through qualifying for Russia 2018 is an ominous sign for Nigeria.
Iceland made waves with their performances at Euro 2016, and while they will have to go some to overcome Argentina and Croatia and reach the knockout stages, they will at least be hopeful of avoiding bottom spot. Nigeria beat Argentina in a friendly in November, but they will not expect a repeat of that thrilling win when it comes to the World Cup. Nigeria are 7/5 to finish bottom of Group D with Bet365.
Argentina (8/13 to win the group with Bet365)
Croatia (1/2 to qualify with Bet365)
Iceland (1/4 to fail to qualify with Bet365)
Nigeria (7/5 to finish bottom with Bet365)
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