One of the more memorable pop culture moments from the World Cup was Ronaldo’s famous haircut in 2002.
The Brazilian legend revealed a haircut which had his head completely shaven, except for a patch near his forehead.
As it turns out, that haircut was more than fashion statement. Apparently, the haircut drew attention away from an injury Ronaldo was dealing with.
“Everybody was talking about the hair and forgot about the injury, so that helped me a lot in that time,” Ronaldo said.
Watch the video below, provided by COPA90, to see Ronaldo talk more about his 2002 look.
But both will have designs on top spot, as La Albiceleste have their flaws outside a formidable frontline and possess the tournament’s best player in Lionel Messi.
It’s a mix of contrasting styles in Kaliningrad, with the might of Croatia’s majestic midfield coming up against an energetic and excitable Nigeria squad who are the youngest at the tournament.
Below, we look at three key players for each team.
JOHN OBI MIKEL V IVAN RAKITIC
What Gernot Rohr wouldn’t give to deal with the worries facing counterpart Zlatko Dalic – trying to fit a plethora of creative geniuses into 11 starting spots.
Real Madrid’s Mateo Kovacic won’t even start the tournament while Marcelo Brozovic has to operate in the shadows of Luke Modric and Ivan Rakitic.
Despite being blessed by Modric and Rakitic, many Croatia managers have found themselves cursing their inability to find room for both to flourish on the international stage.
Dalic made a bold move after taking charge in October last year – taking the Real Madrid schemer out of his deep-lying midfield role and thrusting him into the playmaking No10 spotlight.
Removing him and keeping the Barcelona maestro in the anchoring duo in a 4-2-3-1 formation may have seemed catastrophic fans but it worked to perfection, with a qualifying campaign in danger of steering off course by Dalic’s bold move and two wins and a draw in his first three games securing passage to Russia.
Nigeria captain John Obi Mikel, meanwhile, has a pivotal role to play for his side, and not simply because he is the man with the armband.
The Super Eagles are blessed with skill, pace and youthful exuberance in abundance, but they have a super young squad – the youngest of all 32 nations in Russia.
And that will be a worry for their fans, and particularly Mikel, who may well feel like a schoolteacher at this tournament – hurriedly and nervously supervising this young cohort through a class trip to a museum, making sure an unruly rabble don’t break anything expensive.
The former Chelsea man has won 85 caps – 13 more than anyone else. Only Ahmed Musa (72), Elderson Echiejile (62) and Ogenyi Onazi (52) come close.
Six of his colleagues have earned less than 10 caps, while 12 of the 23-man squad are 25 or under.
But Mikel can count on the experience gleaned from 11 campaigns in the Premier League with Chelsea, as well as forays into the Champions League.
He has also been to the World Cup before, in 2014, and featured in Nigeria teams that won the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations and the bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics.
MARIO MANDZUKIC V ODION IGHALO
Vividly remembered for his titanic performances at Watford in his debut Premier League campaign in 2015/16, Odion Ighalo buzzed all too briefly for the Hornets.
He plundered 17 goals in 27 games the previous season as Watford earned promotion back to the top-flight after an eight-year hiatus.
And far from struggle to bridge the seismic gap in quality between England’s top two tiers, the former Granada goal-getter thrived at the elite level – netting an impressive 15 league goals in 37 games to finish as the Premier League’s joint sixth highest scorer as Quique Sanchez Flores led Watford to a respectable 13th-placed finish.
Ighalo failed to live up to iconic status a year later, however, scoring a miserly one goal in 18 outings. He is now plying his trade in China with Changchun Yatai, for whom he has bagged seven goals in 11 games this term.
That glut of goals in his maiden Premier League campaign led to international recognition but he has hardly soared for the Super Eagles, only netting four goals in 19 appearances.
Kelechi Iheanacho has eight goals in one less game, but the burly Ighalo is likely to be preferred as the lone striker by Rohr to pose problems for a less than stellar Croatia defence.
The tip of the spear for the Europeans will be the unflappable Mario Mandzukic, who while not a prolific goalscorer himself, is a scorer of big goals – six of Croatia’s 15 in qualifying were claimed by the big Juventus frontman.
Mandzukic is a tenacious workhorse of a player – a rare commodity among modern strikers. He plays at such a tempo that even if he’s not putting the ball in the back of the net, he causes headaches for defences, with his intelligent and tireless running.
An adroit forward adept at playing anywhere across the front, the amount of effort he puts in is incredible.
IVAN PERISIC V ALEX IWOBI
Coveted by Jose Mourinho at Manchester United last summer, Ivan Perisic didn’t quite grab the limelight as much this season – either domestically or internationally.
He scored 11 goals for Inter Milan – the same figure as a year ago for the Nerazzurri – but he endured a frosty relationship with his employers after they reportedly refused to sell him to the Red Devils.
His form has also tailed off somewhat internationally too. He starred as Croatia’s top goalscorer during Euro 2016 qualifying, with six goals in nine games, as well as two goals at the tournament itself, including the winner as Croatia secured passage to the knockouts with a famous 2-1 win over Spain.
In World Cup qualifying he’s had a less telling impact – just two goals in 10 games.
But he notched in the final friendly against Senegal and there’s no threat to his starting place for this game – with his incisive and ceaseless forays down the channels sure to keep the Nigeria full-backs busy.
Having represented England at various youth levels, Alex Iwobi decided his senior future lay with the country of his birth, launching his international career with the Super Eagles in 2015.
And he’s settled in nicely to life on the globe’s grand stage – netting five goals in his first 19 appearances.
The Arsenal man has nearly as many goals for country as he does for club – bagging a paltry nine in 98 matches in what has been a sporadic start to life as a Gunner.
Whereas he flits in and out of the Arsenal team, he is an integral part of this vibrant young Nigeria side, who will be keen to make an impact in Russia and reach the last 16 for the second tournament in a row.
Iwobi was twice on the scoresheet as Nigeria defeated Argentina – the two sides will face each other for real here – 4-2 in a friendly last year.
Football and success runs in the family for the 22-year-old, the nephew of former Super Eagles star Jay-Jay Okocha, part of the Nigeria side that won Olympic gold in 1996.
Lionel Messi and Co go up against a tiny island playing in its first World Cup, but the mismatch is not as seismic it may seem to be.
Two-time winners Argentina had their struggles during qualification and Iceland, England’s conquerors at Euro 2016, rode the crest of a golden wave to earn their rightful place at the game’s greatest competition.
Here’s a tactical breakdown ahead of the Group D opener on Saturday:
MESSI MEETS MEZA
Sergio Aguero’s inclusion isn’t the only big news to be emanating out of Argentina. Maximiliano Meza, little-known outside of South America but a star for Independiente, will be keeping Juventus dynamo Paulo Dybala moping on the bench.
La Albiceleste are crying out for versatility, they’ve got about 10 No10s in Russia or in front of the sofa, and while Meza can and will nominally start there, his ability to play almost anywhere in midfield and attack is a huge boon for Sampaoli.
It means the 25-year-old will be comfortable flitting in and out of any position that a free-roaming Messi vacates. At 5ft11 he may not be built like a mountain, but he also has an aerial presence about him – important in one of the tiniest teams of the tournament.
ICELAND SET TO DELIVER
Iceland don’t play hoofball – far from it. But they maximise all aspects of the game, however ugly they may be, and that includes asserting dominance at set-pieces.
The average height of the Iceland squad is more than 6ft and they quite literally tower over everyone else in the competition.
With Gylfi Sigurdsson pinging in some laser-pointer set-pieces with skipper Aron Gunnarsson in tow, he of the massive throw-ins, a diminutive Argentina will be sorely tested.
Sampaoli is expected to combat this with a zonal defensive system, and it’s a good job they’ve had extra practice time as one shred of miscommunication could prove fatal.
DECONSTRUCTING SAMPAOLI’S 2-3-3-2
It’s a formation that Diego Maradona branded ‘ridiculous’. Unorthodox as it may seem, Diego, we’ll trust Sampaoli on this one.
With Nicolas Otamendi, Marcos Rojo and Federico Fazio the only realistic options in central defence, entrusting them to press high and aggressively would be tantamount to pressing self-destruct.
Instead the former Chile coach has come up with this new-fangled formation to explain how he wants Argentina to ‘control every level of the pitch’.
It’s essentially a 4-4-2 diamond. Those slow centre-backs the first level, then Javier Mascherano flanked by his wing-backs, Angel Di Maria, Maximiliano Meza and either Lucas Biglia or Giovanni Lo Celso controlling the next rung up before we get to Messi and Aguero. Messi, presumably, can appear on any level he well pleases.
Sampaoli, then, is desperate for players to have options in every sector of the pitch – as he plainly doesn’t trust them without the ball.