MOSCOW – Argentina, runner-up in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, can be content with the outcome of Friday’s draw for the 2018 tournament, which placed the South American side in a group with Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria.
Coach Jorge Sampaoli’s team is set to play its first match on June 16, facing World Cup debutant Iceland at Spartak Moscow stadium, five days before a duel with Croatia in Nizhny Novgorod.
Its final Group D match is scheduled for June 26 against Nigeria, the team Argentina defeated to win gold in the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Despite its stumbles during the qualifiers, Argentina hopes for another opportunity to claim its third World Cup after losing the 2014 final to Germany, conceding an extra-time goal to Mario Götze.
Since then, the Argentines fell to Chile in the finals of the 2015 and 2016 Copa America competition.
Diego Maradona, the star of the Argentine squad that won the 1986 World Cup, said after the draw that Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria constitute “a very accessible group for the teams involved and because Argentina has to improve.”
The national side “cannot play as badly as they are doing,” he said.
A match with inexperienced Iceland is seen as a good way for Argentina to start its 2018 World Cup, though the team from the tiny island nation reached the quarterfinals of EURO 2016.
Croatia, led by La Liga stalwarts Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, looms as Argentina’s main rival for the top spot in Group D.
But Nigeria should not be overlooked, as the African side defeated Argentina 4-2 in a friendly where the South Americans were without superstar Lionel Messi.