#WorldCup2018 Profile: Messi will look to finally conquer the world in Group D

Lionel Messi

The climax of the 2017/2018 club season made me realise that there is nothing more important in football than representing your country in the World Cup. All players – I mean all players have nursed that the dream since childhood. This also makes it more heart-breaking if you miss out or fail to perform at a critical stage.

Lionel Messi is arguably the best footballer that has ever played the game to some people (I disagree) but he is definitely in my Mount Rushmore of the greatest footballers ever. Anyway, with all his greatness he has never truly set the World Cup alight in his three previous appearances at football’s biggest stage. He has led the Argentinian side to the 2014 World Cup Final in Brazil but cruelly fell short and failed to perform at the ‘critical stage’.

This year Messi will be looking to give his last hurrah at the world stage, and it will be foolish to put it past him to go all the way. His Argentine side under Jorge Sampaoli is as unpredictable as ever with the way they set up especially with Sampaoli’s constant tinkering. However, they are most likely to line-up in a 4-2-3-1 with Ever Banega and Lucas Bigilia as the midfield pivot. Angel Di Maria and Christian Pavon will play on the wing providing Messi plays behind Sergio Aguero. Paulo Dybala can also play behind Aguero while Messi plays on the right. Argentina’s lack of consistency in approach and formation can cost them at this World Cup especially with a defence that only counts Nicolas Otamendi as outstanding.

Iceland topped their UEFA qualification to advance to the World Cup and they play a 4-4-2 formation. They are very compact and superbly drilled – think of Burnley as a national team. Gylfi Sigurdsson plays in centre midfield but advances into attacking spaces when in possession to create chances and supply Burnley’s Johann Berg Gudmunsson and Birkir Bjarnason out wide. Burnley …. Oops, Iceland lacks a real goal scorer and will look to Sigurdsson’s goal scoring and set pieces to make a difference but they will be very difficult to beat. Meanwhile PSV Eindhoven’s promising talent Albert Gudmunsson will need to be watched as a potential star in attack for Iceland.

Croatia line up in a defensive 4-3-3 formation and have a potential midfield three of Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic. However it is likely Fiorentina’s Milan Badelj will get the nod over Kovacic because he is a more natural defensive midfielder. Either Modric or Rakitic will push up to support the attacking three of; Ivan Perisic on the left, Nikola Kalinic or Andrej Kramaric in the centre and Mario Mandzukic on the right. Croatia does not have too much quality in defence and off the bench which could be their undoing against quality sides.

Nigeria my country! Nigeria has won the jersey World Cup and perhaps do not need to impress at the World Cup. The team lines up in a 4-2-3-1 but many Nigerians agree we are much better in a 5-3-2 formation. Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and veteran captain John Obi Mikel are the creative forces in the team. Odion Ighalo will likely lead the team upfront and will trouble defenders with his pace and strength. The Nigerian midfield is relatively pedestrian and unproven at international level. However, the midfield is strong and physical. The defence is a tad better with William Ekong and Leon Balogun leading the backline, but vulnerability to set piece is a huge worry for Nigerians and will be the catalyst of the Super Eagles waterloo.

Predictions

My prediction for this group is outlandish but is based on the strength and weakness of all the teams.

  1. Iceland {Group Winners}
  2. Argentina
  3. Croatia {Dark Horses}
  4. Nigeria

Iceland are tactically the most well drilled side in the group and will prove extremely difficult to beat even for a talented Argentina side and their strength on dead ball situations sets them apart slightly  over everyone else in the group. If Argentina had a better defence they will be clear group D favourites. Despite Argentina’s attacking capabilities I feel they are just good enough to qualify second in the group.

There is a lot of potential in the Croatian side and they will be difficult to defeat. If they click on all cylinders they can easily cause a shock in the tournament. Nigeria on the other hand; the stage is too big and the quality possessed by the team too little to do anything significant in the World Cup – but we hope that the ‘football gods’ favour the Super Eagles once again.

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