With so many quality sides in this competition it was inevitable that we’d get some cracking matches in the group stages and this looks the best of the lot as we get a repeat of the 2015 final straight away.
Last year was meant to be Argentina’s chance for redemption after the disappointment of losing in the final of the World Cup but yet again they fell at the final hurdle and while they are favourites once again this looks a harder tournament to win than a year ago.
Argentina failed to win in their opening three World Cup qualifiers as they only found the net once but they’ve since won three in a row to get their 2018 campaign back on track. That included excellent away wins in Chile and Colombia, and once again they have a squad that, at least on paper, looks incredible going forward.
In their last three tournaments, across 17 matches, Argentina are unbeaten in 90 minutes. However, they were held to nine draws in that time, including six nil-nils, as despite their attacking talent teams continue to find ways to stop them scoring. 12 of these 17 games have had fewer than three goals while 10 have had no more than one and nine have been goalless at half-time. Furthermore, if we look at their record against sides in the top 15 in our rankings we see some incredibly strong trends. There have been eight such matches within those previously mentioned 17 games and six have finished all-square while there have been just four goals scored in total, including two in the seven from 2014 and 2015 as they kept clean sheets in all seven matches.
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Chile are a side that is stronger in attack than defence and that is reflected in results as their opening six World Cup qualifiers have averaged 3.67 goals per game. However, their games against the best teams tend to be much tighter. Since 2014, they’ve played 12 matches against teams in our top 10 and if we exclude the 3-3 at last year’s Copa against a Mexican reserve side then nine of their 11 matches have had fewer than three goals as they’ve gone W2-D4-L5.
Argentina could only beat Honduras 1-0 in their one warm-up game and with Lionel Messi having returned to Spain for his tax case following that match their star player could well be tired and distracted.
Chile’s preparations haven’t gone much better though, with a defeat at home against Jamaica followed by a loss to our favourites Mexico, but they at least gave themselves a second warm-up game. Furthermore, Chile have won their opening game at each of their last five tournaments and we think they might be a bit sharper starting out than the favourites. However, the very strong draw stats for Argentina makes that look a standout selection, particularly with these two being far stronger than the other teams in Group D and likely to be quite happy with a share of the spoils.
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