Commentary

Argentina's Group D looks the trickiest

In the absence of an obvious "Group of Death", Twitter users joked that it does exist and includes qualifying failures Italy, the United States, Chile and the Netherlands.

Yet Argentina's Group D looks the trickiest of the lot following the World Cup draw at the State Kremlin Palace in Moscow on Friday night.

Apart from hosts Russia, the new draw system placed teams into four pots based on the Fifa world rankings for the first time, and prevented a quartet of strong teams from clustering.

Previously, pots two to four grouped teams along geographical lines.

But world No. 4 Argentina will do well to take heed of the dangers their opponents pose, after being drawn alongside Croatia (17th), Iceland (22nd) and Nigeria (50th).

Five-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi will once again be asked to provide inspiration, something he failed to do when they lost 0-1 to Germany in extra time at the last World Cup final.

But, with a plethora of attacking talents such as Sergio Aguero, Angel di Maria and Paulo Dybala, Jorge Sampaoli's men will be favourites to score the goals required to progress even if they were unconvincing in qualifying. They needed a Messi hat-trick in the final round of qualifying to secure a 3-1 comeback win over Ecuador.

Draw assistant for the night, former Argentinian international and World Cup winner Diego Maradona, showing the ticket of England as he gives the English a lucky break with his hands for once.
Draw assistant for the night, former Argentinian international and World Cup winner Diego Maradona, showing the ticket of England as he gives the English a lucky break with his hands for once. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

The last time Argentina failed to make it past the group stage was in 2002, when they were also grouped with Nigeria.

While the South Americans did edge out the Africans 1-0 then, their three other World Cup meetings have all been nervy affairs won by a single goal in 1994 (2-1), 2010 (1-0) and 2014 (3-2).

While Argentina have never met debutants Iceland on the international stage, England's shock 1-2 loss at the Euro 2016 round of 16 should tell them that the Nordic islanders are not going to be pushovers.

The Super Eagles will be brimming with optimism after beating Argentina 4-2 in a recent friendly in Krasnodar on Nov 14.

Argentina's four previous encounters with the Croats - two victories, a loss and a draw - have also been close, with winning margins of just one goal.

While Argentina have never met debutants Iceland on the international stage, England's shock 1-2 loss at the Euro 2016 round of 16 should tell them that the Nordic islanders are not going to be pushovers.

Should they come through unscathed, they will meet either of the top two teams from Group C, which comprises 1998 champions France, Denmark, Peru and Australia.

The most tantalising group-stage clash will be Group B's first game between European champions Portugal and 2010 winners Spain on June 15 in Sochi.

However, with Morocco and Iran in the mix, the Iberian neighbours will fancy their chances of advancing.

Holders Germany drew Mexico, Sweden and South Korea in Group F and should keep up their fine record of getting past the first round in every edition since winning their first world title in 1954.

Russia and Group A opponents Saudi Arabia will kick off the World Cup on June 14, and the final will be played on July 15, with both games at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 03, 2017, with the headline 'Argentina's Group D looks the trickiest'. Print Edition | Subscribe