world cup gear up action-packed Saturday, with Lionel Messi and Paul Pogba among those set to feature.
There were victories for Uruguay and Iran plus a thrilling draw between Portugal and Spain on Friday, with eight more teams beginning their World Cup 2018 campaigns and there is a tournament debut for Iceland, who face the daunting prospect of Argentina (2pm).
Peru will be making their first appearance at the World Cup since 1982 when they take on Denmark (5pm), with France kicking off the day at 11am as they take on Australia in Group C. Croatia and Nigeria also round off Saturday’s bumper offering (8pm).
Who’s playing today?
France v Australia (Group C) – Kazan, 11am
Argentina v Iceland (Group D) – Moscow (Spartak), 2pm
Peru v Denmark (Group C) – Saransk, 5pm
Croatia v Nigeria (Group D) – Kaliningrad, 8pm
What’s the deal?
Saturday kicks off with one of the World Cup favourites, France, taking on Australia in Group C, with the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba expected to feature for Les Bleus.
This is followed by universally popular Iceland making their debut at the tournament, taking on Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and co when they face Argentina in Moscow in the opening fixture in Group D. Attentions then switch back to Group C as Peru take on Denmark in Saransk.
The day is rounded off with Croatia taking on Nigeria in Kaliningrad in the second game of Group D, with many hoping to see the Super Eagles in their eye-catching home strip.
France v Australia: I have gone for France to win this. Yes, they had a bad warm-up result against USA last weekend. But I just expect Australia to sit back and defend and it will just be a matter of time before France break them down.
PAUL PREDICTS: 2-0 (4/1 with Sky Bet)
Peru v Denmark: This will be a hard game for Denmark as Peru are a good team – they play some decent football and should not be underestimated. They have no massive stars in their team, but they get the ball down, pass and move, so I think this will be a good game and I am going for a 1-1 draw. Denmark have done well, but Peru could be the dark horses to come out of what is a hard group.
PAUL PREDICTS: 1-1 (5/1 with Sky Bet)
Argentina v Iceland: I have gone for Argentina to beat Iceland. We all remember Iceland from when they beat us at the last Euros, but they are not that good a team and the next game they got destroyed by France. Meanwhile, Argentina will be good going forward, although I do worry about them at the back – but I expect them to win this one.
PAUL PREDICTS: 2-0 (4/1 with Sky Bet)
Croatia v Nigeria: I think Croatia will beat Nigeria. I watched Nigeria in the first half against England recently, and they were terrible. But they have already beaten Argentina last year and this is the problem – you get sides who are so inconsistent that you do not really know which one is going to turn up. Meanwhile, I do like Croatia, they are a good football team
Three to watch
Antoine Griezmann: There are a number of players in France’s talented squad to keep your eyes on, but Antoine Griezmann has been at the forefront of the news in recent days.
There has been much speculation over his club future, and the forward promised he would announce his decision before Les Bleus kicked off their campaign. True to his word – and after a half an hour TV special in Spain – he committed his future to Atletico Madrid on Thursday and can now focus solely on the World Cup.
After a stellar Euro 2016, he scored four goals with four assists in 10 qualification games for France, and will be hoping to light up the tournament in Russia.
Lionel Messi: It will be hard to take your eyes off the Argentina frontman when he captains his country against Iceland and much of their World Cup hopes will be on his shoulders.
After a torrid qualification campaign, it was Lionel Messi’s hat-trick against Ecuador that secured Argentina’s spot in Russia – avoiding a nail-biting play-off – and added another treble in a pre-tournament friendly against Haiti.
Argentina’s World Cup expectations
After scraping through World Cup qualification and embarrassing friendly defeats to Nigeria and Spain, what are the expectations for Argentina in Russia?
Luka Modric: Another La Liga talent, Luka Modric will be the key man for Croatia, who often have the air of the talented underdog and should not be underestimated so this saturday will tellworld cup.
Much has been made about Modric’s ability to play in Croatia’s midfield alongside Ivan Rakitic – think Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard for England – but Zlatko Dalic appears to have found a system where both can shine.
Modric appears to have settled into his new No 10 role for his country with ease, and will surely be pulling the strings for Croatia this saturday.