Bengaluru, June 6: The FIFA World Cup 2018 will kick off in less than 10 days when hosts Russia take on Saudi Arabia in a Group A encounter at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on June 14.
The 32 teams that have made the final stages of the World Cup have been pooled into eight groups of four teams each. The group stage will be played in a round-robin format after which the top-two sides in each group will qualify for the Round of 16. Then on, the knockout stages - Round of 16, quarterfinals, semi-finals and final - will determine who will be crowned the world champions of football on July 15 in Moscow.
Defending champions Germany are placed in a relatively easy Group F featuring Mexico, Sweden and Korea. Group B, which has 2010 winners Spain, Euro 2016 champions Portugal, Morocco and Iran appears to be the group of death. Argentina are in tricky Group D alongside Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria, while Brazil spearhead a lowkey Group E comprising Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia.
Here, MyKhel predicts how each group will pan out in Russia.
Group D Countries: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria
Fixtures: Argentina vs Iceland at 6:30pm IST on June 16 (Moscow)
Croatia vs Nigeria at 12:30am on June 17 (Kaliningrad)
Argentina vs Croatia at 11:30pm on June 21 (Nizhny Novgorod)
Nigeria vs Iceland at 8:30pm on June 22 (Volgograd)
Nigeria vs Argentina at 11:30pm on June 26 (Saint Petersburg)
Iceland vs Croatia at 11:30pm on June 26 (Rostov Oblast)
Key game: Argentina vs Croatia
Interesting battles: Lionel Messi (Argentina) vs Ivan Perisic (Croatia); John Obi Mikel (Nigeria) vs Ivan Rakitic (Croatia)
Group predictor: Along with Germany, France and Brazil, Argentina is one of the favourites to lift this year's World Cup trophy. But the road to the final is going to be a tricky one - just like their road to qualifying for the quadrennial event. Last year's runners-up Argentina, sputtered through qualifying, with Lionel Messi's hat-trick sealing their World Cup berth. And, being pegged as one of the favourites to lift the Cup, Argentina is sure to get past the group stage, but it will not be a walk in the park. After being clubbed with Croatia, Nigeria and Iceland, the South American side have their task cut out.
Few can question their determination and capabilities to lay their hands on the Cup. They have the GOAT in their team. Period. What more could you ask for? And with this World Cup potentially being Lionel Messi's last chance to lay hands on the biggest trophy of world football, Jorge Sampaoli's side is sure to give it all. Moreover, apart from Messi, the team also have the likes of Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain to make the team the number one side in Group D.
But the Argentine's will have their hands full as they have been placed in a tricky group. While many fans pick Croatia as the 'dark horses', the Nigerians, known for their raw strength, are also a tough force to deal with on the field. And let's not forget debutantes Iceland. Their journey has been a fairytale and from being underrated, the side has emerged as giant-killers and though Iceland is the smallest nation by population ever to qualify for the World Cup, they are quite capable of causing an upset.
It would be safe to say that Argentina in all likelihood will finish on top of the group, with the race for the second spot being a tight one. While Croatia would be the front-runner to grab the second spot from the group, Nigeria, with the likes of Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho will be on equal footing.
Group picks: Argentina to top the Group, followed by Croatia in all likelihood. Nigeria third and Iceland fourth.