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World Cup Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria

Intriguing can be a pejorative word in football, because so often it just means: "Dull, but I'm pretending to be interested on an intellectual level."

But this genuinely could be the most intriguing group of the first round. You have Lionel Messi's (probable) last attempt at international greatness, the unpredictability of a Croatia side who sacked their coach before their playoffs, the possibility that tiny Iceland could repeat their Euro 2016 heroics and a fresh and exciting Nigeria side.

There's so many things to retain the interest that yes, Group D really is "intriguing".

Predicted finish

1. Argentina -- You can never rely too much on Argentina at a major tournament, but they should still win this group. They have a genius capable of dragging them through games on his own, but sooner or later he'll need some help.

2. Nigeria -- You could fit a cigarette paper between the remaining three sides, but Nigeria could qualify through having the best balance of exciting promise and solidity, having endured a few thin years, missing out on two African Nations Cup tournaments.

3. Iceland -- Not a star name in sight, but tell that to the assorted big boys that Iceland embarrassed at Euro 2016. Who knows whether that will be enough here, but it's foolish to write them off completely.

4. Croatia -- Despite having Luka Modric, one of the transcendent talents at the tournament, the way they limped through qualification doesn't fill you with optimism that success in Russia is imminent.


Group D
While Argentina struggled in qualifying, they are predicted to advance to the next stage at the tournament.


Must see match: Argentina vs. Nigeria

Will familiarity breed contempt? Argentina have faced Nigeria at four of the last six World Cups, and they've produced some humdingers. In 2014 Argentina won 3-2 in a ripper of a game while 1994 saw Argentina beat Nigeria but finish beneath them in the group. Who knows what 2018 could bring?

Lionel Messi
This could be Lionel Messi's final attempt at winning the World Cup.

X-Factor: You know who

More often than not it's a fairly lazy assessment to refer to anyone as a one-man team, but Argentina didn't do much to dissuade anyone from that notion as they qualified.

Messi dragged the rest of a (theoretically) hugely talented team through their final qualification game with a hat trick, as if he had grimly decided he would be taking another crack at the World Cup, and his compatriots could come along if they wanted.

Who will step up to lighten his load?

Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.


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