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World Cup: Everything you need to know about Group D

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When the World Cup groups were drawn, this was the one that made all the neutrals sit up and go 'Oooh.'

Whilst there is arguably one stand out favourite, second place really is totally up for grabs, and don't assume that group winner is assured either. 

Argentina

Unsurprisingly, much of La Albiceleste's chances of winning reside around one mercurial number 10 - where have we heard that before? Fresh from a stellar season in Spain with FC Barcelona, this might be Lionel Messi's final chance to ingrain himself as the undisputed greatest of all time, if he hasn't already. A World Cup is one of the few accolades missing from his C.V. and despite a disjointed qualification campaign, you would never rule them out. 

Defensively, the South American outfit have always been questionable and veterans Javier Mascherano, Federico Fazio and Christian Ansaldi might be found out against the quicker attacking outfits. There is plenty of bite and grit, however, most prominent through Nicolas Otamendi and Marcos Rojo of Manchester United and Manchester City respectively. 

But you'd expect Jorge Sampaoli's bombastic attacking outfit to be on the front foot, certainly in group stage matches and their forward line would strike fear into any defence. Messi is joined by Juventus talisman Paulo Dybala and hitman Gonzalo Higuain, Manchester City's legendary Sergio Aguero and PSG's Angelo Di Maria. Eduardo Salvio can be trusted to supply the bullets and look out for Christian Pavon, the jet-heeled winger looking to make a name for himself in Europe after impressing in Argentina so far in his career.

Beaten at the final hurdle last time around, you would be foolish to assume the cowmen couldn't go one further this time. 

Croatia

One of the perennial dark horses at recent tournaments, Croatia's impressive qualification campaign blended a mix of youthful energy and heady experience with solid results. Mario Mandzukic, one of the most underrated frontmen in the game will lead them and you can expect he will offer not just a goal threat, but also excellent link-up play. 

Behind him, he has one of the best midfields in the tournament. Besides Filip Bradaric from Rijeka, every other member oozes star quality. Modric from Real Madrid and Rakitic are the stand-out names, but Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovacic both offer more dynamism and a sharper goal threat, whilst Milan Badelj can be trusted to give the midfield a steely base. 

And Mandzukic isn't the only goal threat in the squad either. Ivan Perisic has had another good season with Italy whilst Andrej Kramaric has been superb for Hoffenheim notching 10+ goals and assists in the Bundesliga. Ante Rebic comes into the tournament in red-hot form having secured his status in Frankfurt folklore after downing Bayern Munich, while Marko Pjaca has a point to prove too.

Defensively, they look okay with veteran Vedran Corluka marshalling alongside Domagoj Vida and Dejan Lovren, whilst Sime Vrsjalko will offer thrust and pace from wingback. Tin Jedvaj could be a decent outside bet for fantasy football as could the underrated Danijel Subasic. 

Croatia shouldn't be totally ruled out of winning the group and if it all comes together, these dark horses might make history for The Vatreni.

Nigeria

Nigeria breezed through African qualification unbeaten with four wins and two draws against Riyad Mahrez's Algeria, frequent World Cup contenders Cameroon and Zambia. Many fans believe they are starting to see a golden generation of younger players come through.

However, in terms of the squad, it is difficult to pick one absolute stand-out name, although this may play to their advantage. Ex-Chelsea stalwart John Obi Mikel will likely be partnered by Leicester's Wilfred Ndidi and Joel Obi and Ogenyi Onazi will offer athleticism, if not technical quality off the bench.

Going forward, Ndidi's club teammate Ahmed Musa will be expected to hit the onion bag with Kelechi Iheanacho and Watford's ex-centre forward Odion Ighalo also contributing. Victor Moses is the closest thing the squad has to a talisman and playing in a more advanced wing role rather than his Chelsea wing-back position, he was one of the best players in African qualification. 

A few of the younger names might see their chance to shine. Alex Iwobi has had a disappointing season with Arsenal, but always seems to shine when he dons the green of the Super Eagles. Chidozie Awaziem is a young powerful defender who has pace and strength to match any attacking player, whilst Oghenekaro Etebo has been likened to Yaya Toure for his box-to-box abilities and impressive stamina. 

Salisu Yusuf's outfit might not be full of star quality, but they have experience winning tournaments in Africa and this might really help them in Russia. 
Iceland

Following their heroic Euro 2016 Campaign, everyone expected Iceland to fade back into obscurity, but Heimir Hallgrímsson has steered them through to their first ever World Cup finals, in between practising dentistry full time. Iceland's undisputed talisman Gylfi Sigurdsson is now a £40m man and the Icelandic star will be expected to create and score for his country if they want to have any chance of getting out of the group stages. 

He isn't the only good player in the squad, however, and it would be foolish to assume that marking him will negate a side that thrives on hard work, teamwork and passion. 

Alfred Finnbogason will take chances or half-chances if he is presented with a sniff at goal, whilst Bjorn Bergmann Sigurdarson and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson can both play the support striker role very well. The incredibly underrated Johann Berg Gudmundsson will run for days in the midfield and will also help to shut down opposition attacks, whilst Ragnar Sigurdsson, although lacking in technical skills, is a very impressive powerful centre-back who will relish every clash. 

Our Boys will just be happy to have qualified for the tournament, but if they get through the group, don't bet against them giving someone else a bloody nose in the knockout rounds, as the handclap reverberates around the stadium. 

Image Credit - Wikipedia Commons. 

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