2018 World Cup, Group D Preview: Jorge Sampaoli's Argentina face tough test

Jack Kitson by Jack Kitson / 11 June 2018, 16:08

Group D is one of the strongest at the 2018 World Cup, with 2014 runners-up Argentina, debutants Iceland, a dangerous Croatia outfit, and unpredictable Nigeria battling it out for the two spots in the knockout stages.

Jorge Sampaoli’s Argentina may be the hot favourites to progress, but should the South American side show any signs of weakness they could well come unstuck, with bosses Heimir Hallgrimsson, Zlatko Dalic and Gernot Rohr all gunning to reach the last-16.

Below we profile each of Group D’s four managers.

  • Jorge Sampaoli (Argentina)
  • Heimir Hallgrimsson (Iceland)
  • Zlatko DalicĀ (Croatia)
  • Gernot Rohr (Nigeria)

Argentina Manager: Jorge Sampaoli

Jorge Sampaoli

Argentina had three different managers during a frustrating and underwhelming qualification campaign; Gerardo Martino resigned from his post in 2016, his replacement Edgardo Bauza lasted only eight games, before Jorge Sampaoli came in last summer and eventually led the Albiceleste through to the World Cup.

Sampaoli previously enjoyed great success on the international stage with Chile, winning the Copa America in 2015 - beating Argentina in the final - while they came close to edging out Brazil in the knockout stages of the previous World Cup.

The former Sevilla manager - a protege of Marcelo Bielsa - will be tasked with going one step better than Alejandro Sabella’s beaten finalists four years ago, as he bids to lead Argentina to glory for the first time since 1986, when they were led by Carlos Bilardo.

The pressure on the Argentines is huge, but that’s to be expected, given the immense attacking talent Sampaoli has at his disposal - Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Paulo Dybala to name a few.

Sampaoli’s main task will be deciding what system and style to use as he attempts to mould together an effective, cohesive and balanced team which has a clear identity and structure. But yes, ultimately Messi will be the focal point - in his absence Argentina were recently trounced 6-1 by Spain.

Group D is by no means a breeze but, on paper at least, Argentina are the obvious favourites, however should they fail to finish top of the group France could be waiting in the last-16…

Interesting Fact: Sampaoli led Chile to their first piece of major silverware - 2015 Copa America 2015 - at the expense of Argentina.

Prediction: Quarter-Finals

Iceland Manager: Heimir Hallgrimsson

Heimir Hallgrimsson

Heimir Hallgrimsson oversees Iceland in their historic first ever World Cup, which comes two years after both he and his then co-manager Lars Lagerback led the minnows through to the quarter-finals on their maiden showing in the European Championships.

With a population of just 340,000, Iceland will be the smallest country to ever participate at the World Cup. Hallgrimsson’s men finished top of their qualification group but their reward was a place in one of the most difficult groups in Russia.

The Icelanders are riding along a wave of history-making optimism at the moment, and they have no plans to stop anytime soon. Hallgrimmson will aim to keep it simple and utilize his teams strengths, and given that confidence is at an all-time high they could well prove to be more than just a thorn in the side of their three Group C opponents.

Interesting Fact: Dr. Heimir Hallgrimsson is also a qualified dentist who runs a business in the Westman Islands.

Prediction: Group Stages

Croatia Manager: Zlatko Dalic

Zlatko Dalic

Croatia sacked Ante Cacic back in October, just before their crunch final qualification clash away to Ukraine. His replacement, Zlatko Dalic, led his troops to a 2-0 victory which secured a prized play-off spot. Croatia then proceeded to swat away the challenge of Greece and book their spot in this summer’s showpiece spectacle.

Dalic may only be a recent appointment but the spine of the Croatian squad has been together for years, and considering members of this team include Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic, the Blazers will be extremely dangerous on their day.

Since a third-place showing in 1998 the Croatians have failed to make it out of the group stages in their subsequent three attempts. Their progression could depend on the outcome of their clash with Nigeria, as a defeat would leave their hopes in tatters ahead of a daunting second match against Argentina.

Interesting Fact: Dalic led UAE outfit Al Ain to the 2016 Champions League final.

Prediction: Last-16

Nigeria Manager: Gernot Rohr

Gernot Rohr

Nigeria is Gernot Rohr’s fourth tenure at an African country following spells in charge of Gabon, Niger and Burkina Faso. A lengthy three decade dugout career means he has plenty of experience under his belt, with the cultured coach previously managing club teams in Germany, France, Switzerland and Tunisia.

Nigeria will be taking part in their sixth World Cup, with their previous best finishes (all last-16) coming in 1994, 1998, and most recently four years ago in Brazil. This time around the Super Eagles have been planted in a very tough group, but last year’s stunning 4-2 victory over Argentina will certainly give them confidence.

At his disposal Rohr has a squad brimming with pace and power who may well prove electric on the break, but they do look vulnerable in defence, and a lack of discipline could prove their undoing in Russia. Whatever happens, they should be exciting to watch.

Interesting Fact: Rohr has banned goat meat, pepper soup, and spicy foods.

Prediction: Group Stage

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