2018 FIFA World Cup Preview
The 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup is on our doorstep. The most publicized sporting event in the world… Yes, yes, even before the Olympic Games, will once again bring together the countries of the planet around the same passion. THIRTY-TWO nations have qualified for this great tournament, some for the first time, others are accustomed and some that… will shine by their absence. Over the next few weeks, before the start of the “beautiful game” tourney, FanPicks will cover every nation participating in the group stage. Don’t forget to enter the World Cup contests at fanpicks.com
Not a real “group of death” type in this World Cup, but group D has some steam. After approaching the edge of catastrophe in qualifying, with seven victories, seven defeats, four draws and a 17th qualification snatched away thanks to a trifecta by Lionel Messi in the last game against Peru, the Albiceleste (the White and Sky Blue) is found in a group where they won’t be able to take any games lightly. But they can count on several players, like Messi of course, five-time Ballon d’Or winner, but also Sergio Agüero, Angel Di Maria, Javier Mascherano and Nicolas Otamendi. Head coach Jorge Sampaoli, who arrived a year before kickoff, was at the helm of Chile during his consecration to the Copa America 2015 ahead of… Argentina in shots on goal! In the World Cup, Argentina is the team that has been involved in the most penalty kicks with 5, including 4 won. It is at Sampaoli to give back to this group of gifted people the confidence and the lust necessary to make them regain their place among the favorites.
Iceland was the revelation of the last Euro, eliminating England and reaching the quarter-finals at its first participation, and hopes to repeat the feat at the World Cup. It relies on formidable collectiveness and remarkable composure that served them to finish at the top of a complicated qualification group with Croatia, which they’ll meet again, Ukraine and Turkey. Swedish coach Lars Lagerbäck left after the Euro, leaving Heimir Hallgrimsson, a professional dentist, alone at the head of the team. Iceland has already managed to make a name for themselves, not bad for the smallest country qualified in the history of the World Cup.
It was at Euro 1996 that we got to know the plaid jersey proudly worn by Croatia. Beaten in the quarter-finals by Germany, they had, two years later, finished 3rd in the World Cup at its first participation. That’s enough to make Iceland dream, right! But since then, Croatia has never left the group stage again. This year they again arrives with a group of formidable players like Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Strinic and Dejan Lovren, They certainly have on paper what they need to go further than the group phase. But paper can fly away and the game is played on the ground.
The Super Eagles overflew the qualifications and gave Nigeria its 6th participation in the World Cup. The only African team back from the last World Cup, they were also the first to qualify on from their continent, stretching its invincibility sequence to qualifying in 36 straight matches, the second longest sequence on par with Germany and behind Spain. Nigeria arrives with powerful elements like his captain John Obi Mikel who had a good campaign in Chelsea before flying to China, and also talented young players such as Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho, Both 22 and 21-year-old respectively.