World Cup Previews – Group F

Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria

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The Perception

A group with world cup debutants expected to flourish, but will find it tricky in a group with a tournament favourite, and two teams who will be surprisingly determined to get past the group stages.

Fixtures

15 June 2014

Argentina v Bosnia-Hercegovina, Estadio do Maracana, Rio de Janeiro, 23:00 (BBC)

16 June 2014

Iran v Nigeria, Arena da Baixada, Curitiba, 20:00 (BBC)

21 June 2014

Argentina v Iran, Estadio Mineirao, Belo Horizonte, 17:00 (ITV)

21 June 2014

Nigeria v Bosnia-Herzegovina, Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba, 23:00 (BBC)

25 June 2014

Nigeria v Argentina, Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre, 17:00 (ITV)

25 June 2014

Bosnia-Herzegovina v Iran, Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador, 17:00 (ITV)

Argentina

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  • World Ranking: 6 (correct to 6 June)
  • World Cup best: Winners (1978, 1986)
  • World Cups played in (including 2014): 15 (first in 1930)
  • Manager: Alejandro Sabella
  • Captain: Lionel Messi

Star Man – Lionel Messi

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Often accused of failing to reproduce his Barcelona form at international level, Lionel Messi had gone 16 competitive matches without scoring prior to the appointment of Alejandro Sabella in 2011. However, the coach’s decision to hand Messi the captaincy has proved inspired – he scored 20 goals in 21 Argentina games between October 2011 and March’s 0-0 draw with Romania. He is yet to have a truly mesmerising World Cup, but in his home continent and against fairly easy teams in the group stages, can he prove the doubters wrong? He could just win the Ballon D’or back.

One to Watch – Angel Di Maria

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Angel Di Maria’s work-rate and tactical discipline persuaded Real Madrid to sacrifice Mesut Ozil, rather than him, following Gareth Bale’s acquisition this summer. The 26 year old will need those same qualities to give balance to Argentina’s left flank. His last club game was the Champions League final, which he excelled in and won the UEFA Man of the Match award. He will want to continue that form in Brazil…

How they qualified

Easily. They were the only side to win in Colombia, beat Chile twice, and impressed in home victories against Uruguay (3-0) and Ecuador (4-0). A first ever defeat by Venezuela, home draw with Bolivia and meaningless final-game loss to Uruguay were rare blips. They go into this tournament looking very strong.

Prediction – Runners-up

Argentina are predicted to do well, and in my eyes, could even win the whole thing. If Lionel Messi finally hits form at a major tournament and other attacking talents such as Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain also impress, then there’s every chance Alejandro Sabella’s side could reach the Rio final. Once there, although it will be close, I think that they’ll just lose out to rivals Brazil.

Bosnia-Herzegovina

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  • World Ranking: 25 (correct to 6 June)
  • World Cup best: N/A
  • World Cups played in (including 2014): 1
  • Manager: Safet Susic
  • Captain: Emir Spahic

Star Man – Edin Dzeko

Bosnia's forward Edin Dzeko celebrates a

One of the few stand-out names in the Bosnia squad, Edin Dzeko is his country’s record goalscorer in it’s short history with 35 strikes. He became the first Bosnian player to win the English Premier League when he did so with Manchester City in 2012, whilst his fantastic form at the end of the 2013-14 season, meant the Citizens won it then as well. The 28 year old scored 10 goals in qualifying to help Bosnia get to their first ever international tournament, and now that they are here, Dzeko will be the man who fans back home continue to pin their hopes on.

One to Watch – Miralem Pjanic

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One of the best players in Serie A this season, Roma’s Miralem Pjanic turned down Luxembourg and France to represent the country he left just before war broke out. He’s a technically gifted dead-ball specialist capable of spectacular goals, but with veteran Zvjezdan Misimovic in favour as Bosnia’s ‘number 10’, Pjanic operates from deep. Saying that, his capability to venture forward but still track back and protect the defence is admirable. The 24 year old is also on the radar of Manchester United and Barcelona.

How they qualified

Beaten in the play-offs by Portugal in their previous two qualifying campaigns for major tournaments, the Bosnians were determined to top their group this time round. They did just that as they edged out Greece on goal difference following an 8-1 win against Liechtenstein.

Prediction – Quarter-finals

I think Bosnia-Herzegovina could be the surprise team in Brazil, and reach the quarter-finals in their first ever international tournament. They should finish second in the group, and then face either France or Switzerland in the Round of 16, both teams I think that Safet Susic’s side can beat. Problems will arrive though when the possibility of facing Germany in the last eight come around.

Iran

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  • World Ranking: 37 (correct to 6 June)
  • World Cup best: Group Stage (1978, 1998, 2006)
  • World Cups played in (including 2014): 4 (first in 1978)
  • Manager: Carlos Queiroz
  • Captain: Javad Nekounam

Star Man – Reza Ghoochannejhad

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Iran have a host of veterans who are famous in their own country, but the new golden boy on the scene is their Iran-born, Dutch-raised (he  represented the Netherlands at youth level) forward Reza Ghoochannejhad who joined Charlton Athletic in January. The 26 year old made his international debut last year and scored eight goals in seven games for the national team in 2013. All of those games came in Asian Cup qualifying, where he finished top scorer. Tougher opponents will undoubtedly await in Brazil.

One to Watch – Askhan Dejagah

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Another player who represented another nation at youth level, Carlos Queiroz also persuaded Fulham’s Ashkan Dejagah to switch alliances. Quieroz sees him as an impact player, no surprise given that the winger scored twice on his debut to hand a Iran a crucial 2-2 draw in qualifying against Qatar. Voted Fulham’s player of the year by fans, the 27 year mat well leave Felix Magath’s side after the World Cup following The Cottagers’ relegation to the Championship. The World Cup could give him a chance to attract potential buyers.

How they qualified

Having made serene progress in the early stages, Iran’s qualifying hopes were in jeopardy after managing just two goals and two wins in their opening five matches of the final group stage. But they ended the campaign with three successive victories, latterly beating South Korea away to top the group.

Prediction – Group Stages

Iran have never got past the Group Stages in three attempts at the World Cup, and that record seems sure to continue in Brazil. The draw has been fairly kind to them, and could have been much worse but their hopes of getting out of it are still slim. Although they won’t get battered in every game, finishing with no points is a possibility.

Nigeria

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  • World Ranking: 45 (correct to 6 June)
  • World Cup best: Round of 16 (1994, 1998)
  • World Cups played in (including 2014): 4 (first in 1994)
  • Manager: Stephen Keshi
  • Captain: Vincent Enyeama

Star Man – Victor Moses

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Victor Moses has quickly become an integral figure since making his debut in 2012. He provided real cutting edge at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations and was sorely missed at the Confederations Cup, for which he was injured. After making his name in English football for Wigan, things quite haven’t worked out for the 23 year old since his move to Chelsea in 2012 and his loan move to Liverpool last summer. At both Stamford Bridge and Anfield he has failed to break into the starting 11, but luckily is more impressive for Nigeria, and will be their key player in Brazil.

One to Watch – Emmanuel Emenike

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Physical, skilled and lethal from both close range and distance, Emmanuel Emenike was also missing for last year’s Confederations Cup as well as the majority of Nigeria’s qualifying campaign. The fact that he has been selected for the squad leaves him with a lot to prove, despite his unquestionable ability. Currently playing in Turkey, the 27 year old is under the radar somewhat, but Tottenham and Everton reportedly are interested in bringing him to England.

How they qualified

Easily. One of two unbeaten African sides (along with Ivory Coast), they ended five points clear in their group, then beat Ethiopia 4-1 in a play-off.

Prediction – Group Stages

Nigeria certainly have the opportunity to get into the knockout stages, but it all comes down as to whether they can reproduce the form they showed when they won the African Cup of Nations in January 2013. Stephen Keshi’s side will push Bosnia-Herzegovina close for second place, but just lose out them because of the fact that they face Argentina in their final group game.

My final table prediction

Group F

 

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