World Cup Preview: Iceland v Croatia

Who? Iceland - Croatia
Where? Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don
When? June 26, 20:00 (CET local time)


As suspected previously, Iceland has experienced a hard time with being favorites vs Nigeria. The Super Eagles, led by an Ahmed Musa double, won the game and complicated Group D even more towards the last matchday. On Tuesday, Iceland and Croatia will square off – and perhaps Heimir Hallgrímsson and his boys would relish the opportunity to play underdogs once again and return to their comfort zone against the impressive Croatians.

Although drawing the first game vs Argentina felt like a victory, a brief look at Iceland’s fixtures reveals us a gloomy picture – the have not won a match since their last World Cup qualifier against minnows Kosovo, on October 9th, 2017. During that span, the team drew 3 times and lost 5. On the other hand, Iceland beat Croatia in their last meeting in Reykjavík in June 2017 and have finished above them in the World Cup qualifying group.

This time, the match will take place in Rostov. Besides the fact that Croatia have won the group and will perhaps field a weakened side, Iceland can enjoy a sort of a home advantage – 3 of their squad play their club football for local FC Rostov: Sverrir Ingason, Ragnar Sigurðsson and Björn Sigurðarson. Anecdotes aside, Iceland know they are in a must win situation to keep their chances alive. Even that might not be enough, as it very much depends on the result between Nigeria and Argentina. No doubt that every goal will count, as goal difference can play a factor in such a tight group – a fact that makes Gylfi Sigurðsson’s missed penalty vs Nigeria even more crucial and painful. Iceland would want to do their part and hope their fairy tale story will continue further.


Within 90 minutes, Croatia have instantly become Russia’s summer hit and some even dared to question whether they can go all the way this time. That’s what happens when you defeat Argentina 3-0 with such an emphatic performance.

For many, it reminded for a minute the 1998 team that beat Germany in the same score line. Instead of Šuker and Boban, the show was taken over by dynamo’s Modrić and Rakitić, who prove time and time again they are massively underrated in their Real Madrid and Barcelona roles respectively. Modrić’s strike against Argentina was an exact copy of an important Champions League goal he scored for Los Blancos vs Manchester United in 2013. Ante Rebić, who scored the opener and was equally impressive, is already linked to Tottenham Hotspur. He has revealed he had an intention to swap shirts with Lionel Messi after the game but nixed the idea since “The Argentines made such a bad impression on me, I expected much more”.

The 2 opening wins, along with how the rest of the group shaped up, means Croatia’s chances to finish first are around 99.8%, according to predictions. This surely means they can use the last game vs Iceland as an opportunity to rest some players and take it easy, with the next round on Sunday already in mind. If so, we might see names like Marko Pjaca, Mateo Kovačić and Milan Badelj get some minutes. The latter have played an important in Croatia’s qualifying campaign that included 2 games vs Iceland. Although the Nordic’s finished above the Balkan’s, Croatia have won 4 out of the 6 meetings the two faced, including a crucial one in the 2014 World Cup qualifying playoffs.

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World Cup Preview: Nigeria v Iceland

Who? Nigeria - Iceland
Where? Volgograd Arena, Volgograd
When? June 22, 17:00 (CET local time)

Nigeria (Yossi Medina)

The Nigerians are disappointed after their previous game against Croatia. Nobody thought that Nigeria are favorites, but they failed to even be a challenge for their opponents. Now the Super Eagles are looking to strike against Iceland.

Nigeria will have to look for more energy in the attack. Unfortunately, the Nigerian strikers are not at the same level as we used to see in the past. The team relied on Odion Ighalo and later added Ahmed Musa and Kelechi Iheanacho and all performed badly in this match. The coach, Gernot Rohr, will have to find a solution for that, as finishing another goalless game can be the end of the story for Nigeria.

The player who was marked as key player, John Obi Mikel, will need to bring his experience to the field. By playing against Iceland, he will make his 87th international cap and he will be the all-time third most capped player in Nigeria after Vincent Enyeama and Joseph Yobo. Obi Mikel will be the player that shows his skills and leads the team.

The game against Iceland will be the last chance for Nigeria. If they will know how to use their experience and talent, they even can break the frozen defense of Iceland. In any other case, Nigeria may face their early exit today.

Iceland (Eden Roitfarb)

Just like in Euro 2016, more incredible stories regarding Iceland’s players and population are being reported in the news and social media: For instance, the Argentina draw became the most-watched TV event in the history of Iceland, as 99.6% of the population who have watched TV tuned to the game. Striker Alfreð Finnbogason’s reply to this fact: “The other 0,4% was on the pitch!”.  Additionally, defender Birkir Már Sævarsson is probably the only player at the World Cup that had to ask permission from his work, a salt packing factory, to play in the tournament.

Coming off an impressive fighting performance combined with some tactical brilliance vs Argentina, it is a whole different ballgame for Iceland on Friday against the Super Eagles from Nigeria. The big question is how the Icelandic can perform coming from the favorite’s position and not the underdog? Yes, you read correctly – A team playing their second ever World Cup game are expected to beat a side that is participating in their 6th tournament. That is mainly due to the mood of both teams after their opening match, but also due to the apparent European domination in head to head matches vs non-Europeans this summer.

One of the key points that would be worth a look is ball possession. Most of Iceland’s recent successes came in games where they held relatively less of the ball, like vs England in 2016 or vs Argentina. However, when holding more possession, they are in risk of losing their game plan and tactical shape – just like in the 5-2 defeat to France in the Euros. It will be interesting to see how Iceland will deal with this issue vs Nigeria when they are suddenly expected to attack and win.

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World Cup Preview: Argentina v Iceland

Who? Argentina - Iceland
Where? Otkritie Arena, Moscow
When? June 16, 15:00 (CET local time)

Argentina (Yossi Medina)

Argentina loves to play against debutants. In 1998 they played in an all-debutants group with Jamaica, Japan and Croatia, and they played also against Ivory Coast in 2006 and Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2014. Usually, their experience was enough to give them advantage against these teams.

In 2018, it's not so sure that Argentina is prepared well for the World Cup. They made only one warm-up game against Haiti and their second scheduled match against Israel, another weaker team, has been canceled after a large geo-political controversy. With such a poor preparation, Argentina arrived to Russia and hope to make it through.

Argentina suffered also injuries to two key players during the last weeks. The goalkeeper Sergio Romero had a knee injury and left the team with three goalkeepers that played a combined number of just 9 international caps. It seems that Jorge Sampaoli will choose Willy Caballero, who had a lot of experience in his club career but is a part of a World Cup squad for the first time in his career.

The second missing player is Manuel Lanzini. West Ham United midfielder left over after a knee ligament injury. The midfield has some great players such as Ángel Di María and Javier Mascherano but they will need to work hard to stable their line.

With all these problems, a whole nation will cheer for their Albiceleste heroes, hoping to see them lifting a trophy for the first time since 1993.

Iceland (Eden Roitfarb)

Welcome back Iceland! The Nordic Cinderella are back for their first ever World Cup, and by doing so they became the smallest ever nation to qualify with a population of only 350,000 people.

Yet, it’s those colorful characters that helped Iceland capture the hearts of the neutral fan in Euro 2016. Whether it was the powerful Viking Thunderclap performed together by the players & fans and that has been since adopted by many  teams, or whether because of commentator Guðmundur Benediktsson who famously screamed out his voice in games vs Austria and England (while even taking a jab against the Brits for Brexit), Iceland became the public’s number one darling that summer.

A new exciting prospect in Icelandic football is PSV Eindhoven’s Albert Guðmundsson, who is part of a family with rich footballing history. Albert scored a hattrick in a friendly vs Indonesia in January and became the fourth member of his family to score for the national team. His great-grandfather, who held the same name, played for Arsenal and AC Milan in the 1940’s and was later Minister of Finance. And his father? Well, that’s no other than memorable commentator Guðmundur Benediktsson who once was considered a big talent and played for the national team as well. Talk about a small world!

Perhaps it is time for Iceland to make even bigger headlines, as they start with the biggest challenge possible – a date with Argentina and Lionel Messi in Moscow. It would be interesting to see which Iceland we would see: The side that dominated a tough World Cup qualifying group, or the one that is struggling since and hasn’t won a single preparation friendly. One thing is definite, they would give it all and make life difficult for the best player in the world and his crew.

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