Feature Image Source @Argentina
Argentina came one bounce away from winning the 2014 World Cup over eventual champions Germany. Without a big miss from Gonzalo Higuain or an amazing goal from Germany’s Mario Gotze, they could be entering Russia 2018 as defending champions. But, as it stands, Argentina may be closer to a letdown in this year’s tournament than they are to glory.
The biggest thing standing in the way of Argentina is their group, which is anything but straightforward. While the South American side will be the best team in Group D in terms of their talent on paper, they know that there isn’t an easy match to be had there. They will have to face Iceland, Croatia, and Nigeria in their first three matches of the tournament just to get to the knockout rounds.
Iceland will be the team that everyone looks at as the biggest challengers to Argentina in the group. And while their performance in Euro 2016 makes that somewhat justified, Iceland may not be the toughest Group D competition Lionel Messi and company will face. That honour could end up going to Croatia, who possess more of a threat on the attack and have players capable of moments of individual brilliance that Iceland simply do not.
Ironically for Messi, at the top of that list for the Croatians is Luka Modric. Messi has a history of going head to head with him thanks to their club duties at Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively. Modric showed off his ability to change a game singlehandedly during international play during the Euros with a gorgeous volleyed goal against Turkey. Moments like those are required to beat a superior team like Argentina, who will have to be careful with such dangerous group stage opponents.
It should be noted that despite all of the challenges that Argentina will face in Group D, they are still the favourites in all three of their group games. According to World Cup odds, the Argentines are 9/1 to win the entire tournament. Therefore, talk of their potential demise could very well be overstated. However, with three challenging matches in the group, you just never know.
Also, there is no secret that players and the AFA, Argentina’s football association, have not seen eye to eye with the way the country has approached the game in recent years. With players retiring (and unretiring) from international competition, and with the AFA banning some of their fans from Russia, it is difficult to predict how the team will perform. While they seem to have most of their best players available for the tournament, it will be interesting to see how they play together under the always challenging conditions set by the AFA.
Argentina have all of the talent in the world and should always be one of the last couple of teams standing in the World Cup. If they fail to win this year’s tournament, Lionel Messi may never get the World Cup his legacy so desperately calls for. As always with Argentina, it will be entertaining to watch, win or lose.