Group F highlights what the World Cup is all about - four teams from four corners of the globe all battling it out for glory. Of the four teams, only Argentina harbour genuine ambitions of lifting the trophy and progression from the group would represent success for the three other members of Group F. Argentina will be expected to win all three of their group games so this could turn out to be one of the closest battles for second place in the tournament. We could also see some entertaining goal-filled games as offense looks to have the advantage over defense.
FIFA Ranking – 5th
La Albiceleste (the sky blue and white) are two time World Cup winners and won the trophy the last time it was played in South America in 1978. They are expected to cruise through to the quarter-finals before they face their first real test. This could work for or against them but as the bookmakers' second favourites, there is a lot of expectation that this team should be challenging for the title.
Players to watch
Lionel Messi – There cannot be much to write that hasn’t already been said about the little Argentinian maestro Messi and pure statistics tell their own story:
· Barcelona’s record scorer with 354 goals
· Argentina’s second highest goalscorer with 38 goals
· 21 trophies with Barcelona
· The only man with 4 FIFA World Player of the Year (Ballon D’Or) awards
· Olympic gold medallist
The glaring gap in his C.V. is a major trophy at international level and to secure his place in the pantheon of world greats alongside compatriot Diego Maradona and Brazilian legend Pele, Argentine skipper Messi surely needs a World Cup winner’s medal to add to his collection. This World Cup on South American soil, surely represents his best chance.
Javier Mascherano – Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero will share the attacking load with Lionel Messi but Barcelona man Mascherano has a key role and will be expected to stop the opposition from playing. Argentina have an attacking lineup to rival any other in the competition and Mascherano is the only defensive midfielder that they are likely to select. Mascherano should win his 100th cap during the tournament but don’t expect to see his name amongst the goalscorers as he only has three goals for his country.
Angel di Maria – Argentina have selected a very experienced squad with only two players under 26 so this rising star is already fairly well known. Messi, Higuain, Aguero and di Maria are all 26 and it is the Real Madrid man that will be looking to this World Cup as a chance to breakthrough. Overshadowed at club level by Ronaldo and at international level by Messi, di Maria would already be the undisputed star on most other World Cup rosters. Normally a winger, di Maria will occupy a centre midfield role in a narrow formation and will act as a deep lying playmaker for Argentina’s explosive three pronged attack.
Prediction – Semi-finalists. An easy progression through the tournament before being out-passed by Spain.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
FIFA Ranking – 21st
Bosnia and Herzegovina are the only rookies at this World Cup but there will be a level of expectation in the Baltic state as Bosnia possess a squad containing a number of players who have tasted recent success at club level. They have a very settled side who have played together for a number of years and could cause a shock for some more experienced World Cup teams.
Edin Dzeko – The Manchester City striker is his country’s all time top goalscorer with 35 goals and carries his country’s main hopes of success. Dzeko is one of only two strikers in the Bosnia squad and will probably line-up as a lone striker supported by attacking midfielders Misimovic and Pjanic. If Dzeko can carry on his EPL goalscoring form, Bosnia may be able to qualify from the group.
Asmir Begovic – Rated as one of the Premier League’s best goalkeepers, Begovic will have to be at his best to repel the likes of Messi and Aguero in Group F. Like a number of his teammates, the Stoke shot-stopper and his family fled war-torn Bosnia during the Yugoslav conflict, firstly to Germany before settling in Edmonton, Canada. Begovic even represented Canada at youth level before committing the country of his birth.
Miralem Pjanic – Roma midfielder Pjanic is well regarded across Europe and may move onto one of Europe’s biggest clubs with a good performance in the World Cup. Pjanic is versatile and will be played wide by Bosnia but can operate in a position behind the strikers, utilising his dribbling and passing skills to full effect. Pjanic is another who’s family fled Bosnia and he grew up and played youth football for Luxembourg.
Prediction – Will hope to claim runners up position in the Group but unlikely to progress any further.
FIFA Ranking – 43rd
Iran’s Group opponents will look at Carlos Queiroz’s squad as something of an unknown quantity. Only 9 of the roster play outside of Iran including Vancouver Whitecaps defender Steven Beitashour who was born in San Jose, California and played at San Diego State. This will be the Iranians 4th World Cup and they will be hoping to make the second round for the first time although that does look a tough ask. The have an excellent defensive record, with 10 clean sheets in qualifying but are likely to find the step up in class too much to handle.
Players to watch
Ashkan Dejagah – Versatile midfielder and forward Dejagah will look to get one over his former Wolfsburg teammate Edin Dzeko and help Iran to qualify. One of the few Iranians to have played in one of Europe’s elite leagues, Dejagah must draw on that experience to help his team. The Fulham man is another with player in Group F with dual-nationality having represented the country of his birth, Germany, at under-21 level.
Javad Nekounam – In terms of caps, Nekounam is the third most experienced player in the entire World Cup behind Japan’s Yashuhito Endo and Italian Gianluigi Buffon. The former Osasuna midfielder was the first Iranian to play in Spain after impressing at the 2006 World Cup and will be expected to lead by example.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh – 20-year-old winger Jahanbakhsh plays for NEC in the Netherlands and was voted the Eredivisie’s greatest talent of the season. He only has six senior caps but could represent the greatest hope for Iran at this World Cup and beyond.
Prediction – Likely to finish bottom as their lack of top class experience shows through
FIFA Ranking – 44th
Nigeria come into the World Cup with some impressive results behind them in the past few years. The Super Eagles were unbeaten in qualifying and are the reigning African Nations Cup winners. The key for them could be to collect enough points from their first two matchups before running into Argentina in their third game. They will be looking to repeat their 1994 World Cup performance when they topped their group ahead of Argentina. Current coach Stephen Keisha was captain of Nigeria in 1994 but only played in one game.
Players to watch
Emmanuel Emenike – The Fenerbahce striker Emenike has played most of his club football in Turkey and Russia and is a prolific goalscorer. Emenike has shrugged off controversy in his past having been sent off for offensive goal celebrations and been cleared of match-fixing but will be hoping to make headlines for the right reasons in Brazil.
Peter Odemwingie – Odemwingie seems to have love-hate relationships with fans of most of his former clubs as he has courted controversy throughout his career. He finally seems settled at Stoke City and that has crossed over into an excellent EPL season for the 32-year-old winger. Odemwingie’s late breaks into the box could be an excellent source of goals for Nigeria and settle some tight matches in Group F.
Victor Moses – Moses has targeted a semi-final spot and will need to regain his best form to have any chance of that happening. The Chelsea winger has had a frustrating past two seasons in the Premier League with Chelsea and on loan at Liverpool but will look to put that behind him for Nigeria. Full of tricks and with an eye for goal, Moses could announce himself on the world stage in Brazil.
Prediction – It will be a close call but I expect Bosnia to beat out Nigeria for second place in the group