There is no shortage of star quality in Group D, and with Argentina present, you can guess who stands out most of all. But the talent is not merely confined to Argentina’s number 10 as across all four teams are players who could have a real impact this summer.
Each team in Group D (Argentina, Nigeria, Croatia and Iceland) has a standout player for whom the country will largely depend upon to guide them to success.
In what looks set to be one of the closest groups, these few game changers could make all the difference. Some of the names in this list are already household names, others have a chance to become one in Russia.
Here are some of the players who you may want to keep an eye on for a number of reasons. Some may prove to be match winners, others might go on to be their country’s unsung hero.
The World Cup provides players with the biggest platform of all to showcase their talents, and these 10 individuals all have what it takes to light up what promises to be a thrilling Group.
While not guaranteed a start, if selection was based only on club form, Wilfred would be in the Nigerian XI hands down. Already familiar to Premier League audiences, Ndidi’s defensive ability and physicality will be essential in trying to shield an inexperienced back five. He’s young, but this could be the tournament where he showcases the incredible potential we’ve seen glimpses of at Leicester City.
The new talisman in the Nigerian team, arguably taking on that burden from the vastly experienced Victor Moses. Operating in a central role for the Super Eagles, his performance against England highlights just how valuable he can be. Expect driving runs forward, and for him to be the man leading counter attacks. The World Cup could very well be the making of Iwobi after a tough season for Arsenal.
An essential cog in the Croatian midfield. The likes of Modric, Kovacic and Rakitic will steal the headlines as the sides creative spark, but their freedom to do so only exists because of Badelj’s presence as a defensive midfielder. The Fiorentina captain will play a vital role in balancing a midfield that on paper is far more adept in attack than in defence. Milan instead offers some much needed steel and solidity.
Ivan Perisic’s role in the Croatian team is all the more important when you consider he is one of few players with raw pace and directness. He offers the side a consistent out-ball, chipping in with goals from wide areas (18 for his country) as well as general creativity. Playing alongside talented forwards in Kramaric and Mandzukic, Perisic this summer has the chance to show Mourinho just what he’s missing.
Quite simply, he is Mr Croatia – the main man. As ever in major tournaments, Modric will be tasked with dictating matches as well as opening up the opposition with defense splitting passes. Alongside Rakitic and Kovacic, he completes what is arguably one of the best Midfield’s in world football. If Croatia are to have any plans of going deep into the tournament, it will have to involve an inspired campaign from Modric. The 32 year old showed in Real Madrid’s Champions League winning run that he remains one of the worlds best, this summer is yet another chance to add to his legacy.
The lesser-known Sigurdsson in the Iceland squad, Ragnar is already a national hero after his goal against England two years ago. Sigurdsson plays at centre-back in a side renowned for their defensive solidity. He was a colossus at the back in Euro 2016, as Iceland defended bravely on their way to the quarter -finals. He has had a tricky few years at club level since, after an unsuccessful transfer to Fulham. But a move to Rostov on loan in January has rejuvenated his career, and he looks back to his best ahead of what will be the defenders biggest test to date. If Iceland are to advance, Ragnar will have to replicate some of the form he showed two years ago in France.
As Iceland’s clear star player, he proved his value once more in qualifying by ending the campaign as their top scorer. He showed in Euro 2016 how deadly he could be over a set piece also, and with Iceland set up to once again be physically dominant, expect Sigurdsson to put opposing defences under some serious pressure. The Everton star will carry the weight of a nation on his shoulders once again this summer, and without a top quality striker ahead of him, he is going to have to be the man they look towards to put the ball in the net.
Biglia is a player often maligned given his physical limitations. But operating for Argentina in a deep lying play-maker role, his value to the side could be huge in Russia. Biglia is set to be the man tasked with connecting the deference to the attack, and with his superb passing range, he posses the ability to be Argentina’s Pirlo for a side in desperate need of a calming influence. This summers World Cup may prove to be a difficult one for the South Americas, but If Biglia can perform well, he might just be the key to unleashing the Argentine’s fearsome attacking potential.
Argentina’s wildcard option from the wing, Pavon is one of four players in the squad who still plays in the domestic league. Over the past few seasons at Boca, he has established himself as one of the best young prospects to emerge from South America. After Lanzini’s horrendous injury, Pavon now looks set to start alongside Messi in the Argentine attack. His role in supporting Leo could be crucial to any Argentine success. As more of a creator than a scorer, Pavon’s skill set could be ideal for getting the best out of Messi and Aguero. At just 22 years of age, it is also the perfect shop window for a player already being tracked by some of Europe’s biggest clubs.
Last, but certainly not least, Leo Messi. If ever the word “one man team” applied to a side in this summer’s World Cup, look no further than Argentina and their number 10. In what was a woeful qualifying campaign, Messi was the one ray of light for Argentina, who without him, may well not even be in Russia. His importance to the side is highlighted by the fact that Messi was the only man to score in the side’s last six World Cup qualifying matches. he was also the standout star in a recent friendly against Haiti, scoring a hat-trick, and setting up the only other goal. His importance is immeasurable. Without him Argentina might struggle to emerge from the group, with him though, anything is possible this summer.